The poor need homes, not handcuffs [Letter]

It is a great irony that Baltimore is celebrating the three-year anniversary of its Vacants to Values program and promising to spend $22 million on demolishing housing over the next two years while Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano defines the vacancy problem as one of a "shrinking city" with too many vacant homes for too few people ("Vacants to value: growing Baltimore block by block," Nov. 11).

This stands in stark contrast with the reality of more than 4,000 people who experience homelessness on any given night in Baltimore City, and that of more than 30,000 people on the public housing waiting list.

The fact that all this is happening on the eve of both National Hunger Week and National Homelessness Awareness Week — and just before a City Council decision on whether or not to further criminalize homelessness — represents a similar contradiction of values.

The city is paying people to purchase homes while demolishing neighborhoods block by block. The intention is to create a city that looks more appealing while also pushing the poor out. While blight removal is certainly important in creating healthy neighborhoods, surely in a just society we would prioritize those most in need.

What about creating more affordable housing and building robust communities for all Baltimore City residents? Would that not also encourage a healthy and growing Baltimore?

Instead, we are punishing the poor for trying to meet their basic needs and creating more barriers to stability and housing. The irony here is that it costs the city five times more to keep someone homeless than it does to provide supportive housing programs. Our city's efforts to demolish homes and simultaneously criminalize the homeless is confounding and irrational.

Surprisingly, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agrees. At a press conference earlier this year on homelessness, she promised to house "75 more, and 75 more, until homelessness is ended." We ask Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the City Council to put the money where their mouth is. Stop criminalizing homelessness and get at the root of the problem. The poor need homes, not handcuffs.

Rachel Kutler and Matt Quinlan, Baltimore

The writers are members of Housing Our Neighbors, a Baltimore community group comprised of people experiencing homelessness and their allies and advocates.

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