Hosting the homeless

The Baltimore Sun

Residents of Butchers Hill and Edmondson Heights are understandably upset by the city's decision to locate temporary shelters for the homeless in their neighborhoods. Their fears might have been allayed if the city had done a better job addressing both the relatively low risk involved and the potential benefits for the communities. The city needlessly brought this on itself, when the shelters so far have resulted in few if any disruptions in the two neighborhoods.

On any given day, there are about 3,000 homeless people in Baltimore. Of that number, approximately 1,000 are living in emergency shelters and another 1,400 are in transitional housing. The temporary sites in Butchers Hill and Edmondson Heights, which are being run by the city until a permanent shelter downtown opens in 2009, have a combined capacity of about 200 people. Since July 1, when they opened, they have averaged about 150 a night, though that number may grow as the summer wears on.

The shelters in Butchers Hill and Edmondson Heights are part of Mayor Sheila Dixon's 10-year initiative to reduce homelessness in Baltimore, which remains one of the few cities its size without a facility for the homeless open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The plan also includes health care, employment and social-service components.

The city says that in the past there were no serious complaints about homeless people in other communities that have hosted temporary shelters, where violent crime actually went down because of the beefed-up police presence. Officials also worked with those community groups on better street lighting and trash pickup. But the city hasn't done well in communicating the safeguards in place or the limited duration of the projects, which end in November. Residents might have been more welcoming had the city made an effort to persuade them beforehand that the benefits outweighed the potential risks - and then kept its promise.

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