Activists criticize lack of shelters after bridge fire bTC


By the bridge where a homeless man set an electrical fire that caused a blackout in North Baltimore this week, a few advocates for the homeless stood in the driving rain yesterday, protesting what they said was an accident that might have been avoided if the man had shelter.

As the advocates waved signs that read "Homes not Blackouts" and "Rehab all Vacant Homes," Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers repaired the cables that were severed when the unidentified man accidentally set the fire Tuesday night while trying to keep warm under the Jones Falls Expressway at Cold Spring Lane.

The blackout affected 22,000 BGE customers, including the Johns Hopkins University, Rotunda shopping center, Polytechnic Institute and Western High School, as well as the neighborhoods of Roland Park and Park Heights.

"The fire demonstrates that homelessness affects everybody," said Joe Brown, a volunteer who has worked to feed the homeless for the past 15 years.

"We don't want to say we told you so, but there is no reason for anybody to be without a home. It's a lot easier to house this homeless guy than to spend all the money for repairs," he said.

Charles Swiden, director of the Environmental Crisis Center, a homeless shelter in Northeast Baltimore, said he and other advocates have tried unsuccessfully to find the man who started the blaze under the bridge when his bedding caught fire and flames spread to the cables.

Homelessness, he said, should be treated like any emergency in which many people lose their homes.

"If we had a catastrophe, we'd take [people] to a gym and take care of them. Because homelessness is scattered, we don't see it as an emergency," he said.

Tuesday's fire was the second in 13 months that was caused by homeless people. In November 1995, 37 tenants were left without homes and businesses after a fire at the Hollins Street Exchange in Baltimore. The fire was started accidentally by homeless people in a warehouse across the street.

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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