City OKs $125,000 to help homeless

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore officials agreed yesterday to spend $125,000 to house dozens of homeless individuals in two hotels and will extend their stay as advocates scramble to find more permanent living arrangements for the families.

The city's Board of Estimates approved the funding for 41 homeless individuals who were removed in mid-December from an encampment under the Jones Falls Expressway and placed in a Quality Inn in Baltimore County.

Booking hotel rooms for the homeless -- which city officials described as a one-time, emergency measure -- comes as Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration has placed a renewed emphasis on homelessness, including a recent goal to eradicate it within 10 years.

"We're not just going to spend money and put them in hotels and keep them housed," Dixon said when asked about the arrangement yesterday. "Our hope is to have all of them in permanent housing."

Dixon's office approved a 30-day hotel stay at a Quality Inn in Woodlawn for some of the individuals -- many of whom refused to move to the city's winter shelter -- because of impending cold weather. Fire officials had inspected the encampment on Guilford Avenue and determined that the area was a hazard.

Also, 12 families of women and children were moved from a shelter to a Ramada Inn, according to the board's agenda, because "there were men at the Quality Inn and it was inappropriate for the young children to be at the same location."

Now, the families will have until the end of this month to leave the hotels.

Diane Glauber, president of Baltimore Homeless Services, said 28 individuals have received Section 8 housing assistance and that nine have found a housing unit or are moving in. For the others, officials are working to find paperwork, such as birth certificates, needed to secure federal housing subsidies.

Glauber praised the city's housing department for rapidly securing the vouchers, which frequently take months to obtain. She said she did not expect the hotels will continue to be used beyond the end of the month.

Asked what would happen if people in the hotels had not secured housing by the end of the month, she said the agency hoped that would not be the case. In any event, she said the city is working with the families to ensure they receive services in the future.

"At the time it was the best way to get a large number of people off the street to a safe place," she said. "The hotel was used because it was an emergency situation."

The push to relocate the homeless came days after Baltimore opened its winter shelter in the 1600 block of Guilford Ave. and shortly after media coverage revealed conditions of the encampment and the city's dwindling number of shelter beds. Four shelters were shut down in recent months, leaving Baltimore with about 300 fewer beds.

On any given night, Baltimore has about 3,000 chronically homeless people sleeping on streets and in shelters, cars or other locations not meant for overnight lodging, according to a 2007 homeless census.

Last week, the Dixon administration unveiled a long-anticipated 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. Among dozens of recommendations, the report calls for setting aside 100 housing vouchers for homeless in the next year. The report also calls for a 24-hour permanent shelter that would be open all year, not just in the winter months.

Much of the report, however, relies on millions of dollars in federal and state funding that has not yet been earmarked.

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