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Spend money on jobs for squeegee kids, not guards

I was baffled when I read the article about the Downtown Partnership’s plan to put guards on the street to monitor the squeegee kids (“Baltimore’s ‘squeegee kids’ became focus in 1980s. What’s different now?” Oct. 16). The plan is short-sighted, not truly a solution and, in my mind, could cause additional problems if the guards are not empathetic to both the kids and the drivers they are supposed to assist.

Why not spend that money on a long-term solution to benefit both the kids and the city? Twelve thousand dollars a month used differently could surely help at least a few of those kids get off the street, focus on education and potentially change the trajectory of their lives. As the article stated, some of the boys are just trying to help their families make ends meet. We're talking about helping to provide basic supplies such as toilet paper. These children need stability in their homes and in their everyday lives. They need access to quality education and a shot at the future. More importantly, they need to understand what that future could be.

Putting security guards on the street to monitor their actions will not provide any of these things. It may actually make things worse for them. Will these guards really be concerned with the well-being of the boys or will see their role as an enforcer of some sort? Will they be trained to work through the dynamics of a kid trying to make a quick buck and a tired commuter who just wants to get home? I drive down President Street at least once a week. I have never paid the squeegee boys, but always politely wave them off. Sometimes, they still wipe my windshield, sometimes smiling, sometimes not, but they have always moved on without incident. There may be a few that have caused trouble for someone, but in general, these are not bad kids. And the key thing to remember is that they are just kids. Kids trying to earn money to survive which is something no kid should have to do.

It’s time for the various organizations in this city to pool their resources together and think outside the box to come up with innovative ideas that will really make a difference. We need to bring empathy and understanding to the forefront and jointly design solutions that will provide a benefit to the kids and their families. The Downtown Partnership is putting $3,000 per week toward security guards. What if a few more organizations matched that and instead of paying for guards, we created a cohort with some of those boys and together we developed a program that could not only help provide income streams and thus basic necessities for the parents and their families, but also enabled the kids to stay in school and learn a skill that would provide them a real future? Wouldn’t that be a much better use of the money?

We need to start looking at the bigger picture. We need to think long-term. We need to join our well-intended, but siloed efforts to help those in this city that need us most in ways we haven't done before. It won’t be easy and we won’t see change overnight, but we as a city need to look beyond adhesive bandage solutions and work toward actually fixing the problems at their root. Only by providing real opportunities for a prosperous future can we change the narrative for the kids of Baltimore and thus the narrative for all of Baltimore as well. Who is in to partner for a better solution than the one on the table?

Gloria Romeo, Baltimore

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