Saving 75 homeless is not enough

On Feb. 1, the Mayor's Office of Human Services hosted a community briefing for the "75 Journeys Home" campaign — part of Baltimore City's 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. The initiative was aimed at identifying the 75 most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore, and placing them in immediate housing.

It sounds like a noble cause. But 20 members of the advocacy group Housing Our Neighbors stood in the back of the auditorium during the briefing for the initial results of the campaign, holding signs that read "75 is not enough" and "Everyone is vulnerable."


Members of our group, as well as many other local volunteers, participated in the city's point-in-time census earlier that week, canvassing the city from 4 to 6 a.m. over three days. We met people who have spent over 20 years on the street — some of them veterans, some of them physically or mentally disabled. We met people sleeping in abandoned houses, on front porches, and against brick walls surrounded by litter and debris. We met dedicated outreach workers who described working with over 200 street-homeless individuals a year.

Despite what the final 2013 point-in-time count numbers may reveal, we know that 4,088 people were counted in 2011. We know that 105 people were commemorated during the city's most recent Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. We know that people sleeping on the streets are three to four times more likely to die than their housed neighbors. And we also know that our anecdotal experiences during the count indicate a much greater need than those 75 units. Most of the people we met that week will not be offered housing through the 75 Journeys Home campaign. They slept outside last night and will most likely be sleeping outside again tonight.


At the community briefing, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said these 75 were just a start. That we will then house "75 more, and 75 more, until homelessness is ended." A beautiful promise indeed — and yet at the same time, our city administration supports policies that continue to perpetuate homelessness.

For one thing, the 75 housing units were not new housing vouchers created by the city; they were primarily pre-existing units reprioritized by dedicated service providers for the "most vulnerable." People already on those waiting lists will now wait longer.

Baltimore may lack housing options, but it certainly does not lack houses. The city's Vacants to Values program is aimed at rehabilitating vacant homes and fostering city growth in order to "raise property values, create community amenities, increase local tax revenue, and attract new residents and businesses." The primary goals of the program offer no opportunity for affordable housing or relief to our homeless population. Why shouldn't these rehabilitated homes be dedicated to individuals already sleeping on Baltimore's streets?

Furthermore, the mayor and City Council have has authorized additional and significant tax incentives to developers, including those of Lexington Square, without inclusionary zoning to offer affordable housing options. The Lexington Square development is expected to establish 400 housing units, without any provision for affordable housing.

This is not an issue of resources but one of political will. We are currently building new homes in this city, encouraging new residents to move in — and yet can only house 75 in this most recent initiative?

We will not sit idly by as our friends die in the streets, denied the most basic human right of safe, stable and secure housing. This is a violation that betrays our Charm City. We will continue to advocate for justice for all Baltimore residents, so that all may soon spend the night under their own roof.

Matt Quinlan ( and Rachel Kutler, both Baltimore residents and social work graduate students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, are with Housing Our Neighbors, a recently formed organization focused on homelessness in the city.