Homeless stage sleep-in to spotlight their plight

In the blue cold of early yesterday, a half-dozen men huddled around an acrid, smoky fire blazing in a 55-gallon trash can. They were the remnants of about 200 homeless people and their advocates who spent Friday night and early yesterday at a sleep-in in front of City Hall.

Some of the men stood warming their hands near the fire. Others lay on flattened cardboard boxes on the cold concrete.


The object of the sleep-in, sponsored by a consortium of homeless advocate groups, was to once again draw attention to the plight of those without housing, jobs and facing another harsh winter. And to draw attention to what many homeless believe is city government's lack of substantial support to address their needs.

Early Friday evening, they marched in front of City Hall chanting, "We're homeless, not helpless.


College students from Loyola College and the College of Notre Dame, participating in a weeklong seminar on the homeless, helped to give out food and blankets. Many stayed the night with the homeless.

None of the men who remained yesterday morning thought the sleep-in would make much of a difference.

"We should do this kind of thing during the day on a weekday when all the people who work downtown have to come by and see us," said Benjamin Brown as he sat on a piece of cardboard.

"We're not asking for much," Mr. Brown added. "Just a place to live, a job and an opportunity to make a better life for ourselves."

A man named Charles, who declined to give his last name, said at least he was heartened by the fact the college kids spent the whole night with them on the coldest night so far of autumn.

"I was very impressed by what they did," said Charles. "It gave me a warm feeling. I slept real good last night despite the cold."

As others talked about the homeless, a young man named Brian Thomas interjected: "We shouldn't call ourselves homeless. Once you attach labels to yourself, you dehumanize yourself. I'm not homeless. I'm Brian."

"Like the advocates, the city is very concerned about the homeless and is working quite aggressively to expand our service capacity in the city," said Joanne Selinske, director of the Mayor's Office of Homeless Services.


She noted that the city just dedicated on Friday, Veterans Day, a new housing program for homeless veterans in the 300 block of N. High St. The $20 million program will provide both temporary ** housing, permanent housing and rent subsidies for homeless veterans.

Ms. Selinske also said the city has received $30 million in federal aid targeted specifically toward housing for the homeless.

The city has between 2,000 and 2,400 homeless on any given day, said Ms. Selinske. There are 245 permanent dwelling units for the homeless with another 400 expected by the end of 1995 and 1,695 temporary beds.

The events during the night included gospel songs sung by the the Gospel Choir from Blessed Atonement Church and a protest burning of "broken promises".

Food was provided by Project Hunger and homeless advocate Bea Gaddy. Yesterday, the homeless went to Gordon Plaza at the University of Baltimore to receive food and winter clothing provided by Project Hunger.

"It's a great feeling to see these people treated with some dignity and watch them leave with some hope in their eyes," said Stephen Charles of Project Hunger, who participated in both events.