After downtown cleaning, the homeless come back

The Baltimore Sun

Homeless people were back sleeping along Guilford Avenue yesterday, a day after the Downtown Partnership cleaned the area in what the homeless charged was an effort to move them.

The actions by the nonprofit business group have evoked complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union and social service providers that the initiative violated the rights of people to congregate in public space.

The Downtown Partnership issued a statement yesterday denying that its workers intended to force the homeless to relocate.

"We do not have the power to evict, and we've never forcibly evicted homeless individuals," the statement from spokesman Mike Evitts said.

"If we did, you'd never see any homeless on the streets of downtown. This is clearly not the case," the statement said. "Like any other private citizen, The Partnership has the right to ask people not to litter and not to take over benches. People do not have to listen to us. But, when it comes to litter, there should be no double standard when it comes to the homeless. Just like any other citizen, the homeless should not leave empty boxes and garbage on our streets in downtown."

The spokesman and Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, declined a request for an interview.

In the statement, the partnership said the Sun's article published yesterday was "one-sided at best" and "mischaracterized" its actions.

Several homeless people who live in the area along Guilford Avenue and Bath Street said workers from the Downtown Partnership told them Wednesday to move from the area, and if they did not take their belongings the items would be thrown away. Downtown Partnership officials said they disposed only of cardboard boxes and empty food containers.

Many of the homeless interviewed said this was not the first time the group had told them to leave an area and took items.

Henry Sandler, 36, who is from Pikesville and has been homeless for 2 1/2 years, said that previously the workers had told him to leave nearby Mercy Park, forcing him to his current location.

"Vacate. Their words are 'vacate the premises,' " Sandler said, shortly after waking up under the JFX yesterday morning. "We took our belongings, but what we couldn't take, they throw away. ...They violate civil rights. They don't care. They jumped out on us like it was a Baltimore City police raid."

Advocates for the homeless, who canvassed the area yesterday, said they have been told that inhalers and other medication had been thrown away in past initiatives.

"One of the most disturbing things is loss of medication," said Kevin Lindamood, a spokesman for Healthcare for the Homeless."Those kind of sweeps need to stop."

Healthcare for the Homeless issued a statement calling for all public and private groups in the city to prohibit "activities that in effect move individuals or belongings from public areas, as long as the public right of way is not impeded."

Adam Schneider, a community relations associate at Healthcare for the Homeless, who visited the site yesterday, said, "This has been going on for much longer. [Wednesday] wasn't an isolated incident. And that area isn't the only place that this has happened. This has been going on a while."

John Polk, 40, lived in Charles Village and was a school bus driver for Howard County until he suffered an on-the-job injury last year and was unable to work. Denied workers' compensation, he said, he spent his savings after a few months, and in January he began living on the streets.

"When [the Downtown Partnership] evicted people from War Memorial Plaza, I lost three T-shirts and a pair of socks," Polk said. "But that's minor in comparison to what other people lost. ... I'd gladly move along if I had some place to go."

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