Squeegee jobs dried up from some Baltimore intersections after city ban. Some have found work through city’s Hire Up program.

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

Carlose DeBose Jr. doesn’t remember a time when he felt like a kid.

Not after his mother got sick. Not after he started taking care of his little brother. Not after he started playing the part of a grown-up.


“I always had to be serious, like take on a role,” DeBose said. “I just always had it pretty much put together. I had to. I had no choice.”

DeBose played that role for more than five years, rising at dawn and heading from the Upton neighborhood to wash car windows on Chase Street or Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Growing up in the towers of McCulloh Homes, squeegeeing was popular among DeBose’s friends and seemed like an honest way to earn money in a world of limited options.


On one sweltering summer day, DeBose returned home with sunburned, sticky skin. His mother, Carnita Harris, was stressed. Their rent was due and she was short. DeBose tucked his earnings into an empty cereal box and told her to go look inside.

The cash covered the entire month’s rent.

“She was like ‘Man, this ain’t no squeegee ... money,’” recalled DeBose, smiling at the memory of her skepticism. “It amazed her every time. I always made it count. I always made it for something.”

Later, that squeegee income allowed him to pay for his mother’s burial. That counted the most.

DeBose, now 26, wasn’t necessarily looking to change jobs when he and his friends were approached by city staff last fall. But he knew the walls were starting to close in.

A ban on squeegeeing at some of the city’s most lucrative intersections went into effect in November. The decision came after a squeegee worker shot and killed a motorist last summer who confronted a group of windshield washers with a baseball bat. The shooting followed years of rising tensions and complaints over the sometimes aggressive workers. A 15-year-old was later charged with murder and is awaiting trial in July.

That shooting prompted city and business leaders to convene the Squeegee Collaborative to discuss solutions. “No squeegee zones” were established with an emphasis on connecting city youth to assistance programs. People who continue to wash windows are warned and then cited.

Despite DeBose’s most entrepreneurial efforts — he sometimes added selling water and snowballs to his regimen — he knew the squeegee money he brought home wasn’t going to be the same as it used to be. And he lost some of his drive when he laid his mother to rest. His teenage brother, too, was gone.


“After I did that, it was like what else is there?” DeBose said.

Carlose DeBose, a former squeegee worker, is now a Cleaning Corps Ambassador for the Downtown Partnership.

Maurice Blanding, a city outreach worker known as Mr. Maurice approached DeBose and his friends before the ban took effect. No one else was willing to hear Mr. Maurice out, DeBose recalled, but DeBose was listening. Other city staffers had approached the squeegee workers before, but Mr. Maurice was persistent. Somehow, DeBose never felt pressured.

“He always was just like ‘Whenever you’re ready ... just give me a call,” DeBose said.

Mr. Maurice’s voice lingered inside his head.

“I would go back home and throughout my day, whatever I’m doing: ‘Y’all hear what Mr. Maurice was saying? Y’all think Mr. Maurice was bluffing?’ I can’t stop thinking about what Mr. Maurice says,” DeBose said.

DeBose made the call. That’s how he got connected with the city’s Hire Up program, a jobs initiative that guarantees work but also connects participants with career counselors, financial literacy classes and behavioral health services. Participants like DeBose are guaranteed 35 hours a week of work for at least six months earning $15 per hour, but their employers also allow them to be excused for training sessions and to tap into city services.


On a recent evening when DeBose sat down with Baltimore Sun reporters, he had just finished a financial training class where discussion centered on homeownership. DeBose said they talked about mortgages and he learned he would be responsible for all repairs if he bought a home, instead of calling for a maintenance man.

“I didn’t know,” DeBose said.

DeBose has worked two jobs through the Hire Up program. The first was a temporary job manning a food cart at the Baltimore Convention Center. Now he’s on a six-month placement as a Clean Corps Ambassador for Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, cleaning streets, scrubbing graffiti and power washing sidewalks.

Started in 2021, Hire Up aims to help 330 people with its current funding. The program received $5.2 million in American Rescue Plan funds, a federal aid program offering coronavirus relief. So far, 229 people have participated, said Keyarah Watson, spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development which runs the Hire Up program. About 70% of those who completed the program have been hired and 50% got full-time jobs with city agencies, she said.

Starting his day as the sun came up on a recent morning, DeBose hustled down Water Street pushing a large blue garbage bin along an assigned route he would sweep three times that day. On the street, below the gleaming glass windows of downtown’s high-rises, he reached a gloved hand into a shrub and plucked a tangle of litter.

A double-sided medallion hung from a silver chain around Debose’s neck as he worked; on one side was his mother, Carnita Harris; on the other was his brother Stafford Willis, who went by “Boom.”


Losing his baby brother during his senior year of high school was insurmountable for DeBose. He didn’t graduate.

When DeBose completes the Hire Up program, he’ll likely be offered a permanent job placement with a city agency, a boost to both him and Baltimore which has been plagued by vacancies in particular departments. Downtown Partnership is a top employer as are the city departments of public works and recreation and parks, Watson said.

The prospect of a permanent job for DeBose looks bright. His supervisors sing his praises. DeBose is a hard worker and an “absolute pleasure,” said Marcus Lee, an employee of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development who oversees DeBose’s team of cleaning ambassadors.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him blossom in the future,” he said.

Carlose DeBose, a former squeegee worker, is now a Cleaning Corps Ambassador for the Downtown Partnership. Here, he cleans an alley off Water Street during his downtown rounds on May 16, 2023.

Maryland Policy & Politics


Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.

While city officials have been referring squeegee workers to the Hire Up program, it’s available on a wider basis. Those 18 and older who are unemployed or underemployed are eligible. Officials wouldn’t specify how many former squeegee workers have entered or completed Hire Up.

With the city’s “no squeegee zones” in place and the push to find alternative work for city youth ongoing, Baltimore has experienced a decline in the number of squeegee-related calls to city police, said Faith Leach, Baltimore’s city administrator. From January through the end of May, the city received 20 calls to report squeegeeing, compared to 69 during that same period the year prior — a 71% decrease, she said.


Mayor Brandon Scott has begun publicly touting the initiative’s success. Last month, he told a group of mayors gathered in Baltimore that the issue simply “went away,” although squeegee workers are still visible on some Baltimore street corners, some banned, others not.

Even though DeBose doesn’t make as much money as he once did, that isn’t the point, he said. The goal is steady work and being able to take care of his responsibilities, he said.

DeBose also has tried to take advantage of the classes and services offered by the Hire Up program, approaching it with his “make it count” mantra, just as he did in his squeegee days.

This summer DeBose will welcome his own child into the world, a son he and his partner plan to name Kenzo. The arrival will bring a renewed sense of purpose for a man who has always worked with someone else in mind.

“Where we all come from ... the neighborhood, you just always want to do something better,” DeBose said. “You just want to take advantage of all the things you got coming or you’d be in the back of your head, ‘I wish I would have, should have, could have.’”

Carlose DeBose, a former squeegee worker, is now a Cleaning Corps Ambassador for the Downtown Partnership. Here, he cleans up along Water Street during his rounds on May 16, 2023.