Baltimore will begin enforcing anti-panhandling ordinances on squeegee workers in several designated high-traffic zones early next year as part of a plan rolled out by the city’s Squeegee Collaborative on Thursday.
The plan, outlined for The Baltimore Sun by city officials and leaders of the collaborative, calls for no squeegee zones to be established in six areas where squeegee activity has been most prevalent in the city.
In those zones, Baltimore Police will be charged with first issuing two warnings to any squeegee workers soliciting money. After that, citations will be issued. Drivers who engage with panhandlers and obstruct traffic also may be cited, officials said. The areas will be marked with signage labeling them as no-panhandling zones, not only impacting squeegee workers but others who ask drivers for money in those areas.
The enforcement plan is part of a broader roadmap including social support services and guaranteed income developed by Mayor Brandon Scott’s Squeegee Collaborative, convened this summer in the wake of a fatal, squeegee-related shooting at the Inner Harbor.
Downtown business leaders and many city motorists have long complained about the practice, however, and the shooting led to calls for Scott to “clear the corners” where the squeegee workers operate. The mayor opposed such a strategy, saying instead that his office would work to address the root causes that lead people to squeegee in the first place.
The collaborative, which included city business leaders, elected officials, nonprofit leaders and youth squeegee workers, has been meeting since July to discuss solutions.
The plan, which Scott held a news conference Thursday afternoon to announce, calls for designated no squeegee zones to be established in six locations across Baltimore: President Street; the southern end of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; the intersection of Sinclair Lane and Moravia Road; the intersection of Northern Parkway and Wabash Avenue; the area around Mount Royal Avenue and North Avenue near the Interstate 83 junction; and a zone that would continue from the Interstate 395 off-ramp down Conway Street.
The latter is where Timothy Reynolds, a white, 48-year-old Hampden resident, got out of his car with a bat to confront a group of Black squeegee workers at the intersection of Light and Conway streets. The altercation ended with one of the workers shooting and killing Reynolds. One of the workers, who turned 15 the next day, is charged with first-degree murder; his attorneys say he acted in self-defense.
Reynolds’ death and the altercation that preceded it ignited public discussion around squeegeeing, which has long been a political issue in Baltimore. The workers, who clean car windows for money, have been a presence at major intersections for four decades. Typically young Black men and boys experiencing severe poverty, the workers use the daily infusion of cash to meet basic needs, several have told The Sun.
Another of the zones — North Avenue near Interstate 83 — is where U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar recently had a run-in with squeegee workers that led to Bredar calling police. The Baltimore Police Department is subject to a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice because of its unconstitutional policing of poor, Black neighborhoods, and Bredar oversees the reform efforts.
City officials said the first citations could be issued beginning Jan. 10 after a public education period.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the department is in the process of developing protocols, policy and training on how to issue the citations and warnings. Officials have not yet decided how much citations will cost.
In an interview Thursday with The Baltimore Sun, Scott said it was not difficult to come to the conclusion that enforcement should be part of the plan.
“Every other week you’re hearing stories about the police department, that follows my orders, out there making arrests of young people who squeegee and people who are committing these acts of assault or Cash App robberies,” he said. “I support enforcement.”
But Baltimore will not return to locking up young Black men because they’re standing outside, Scott said.
“Enforcement is going to be equitable and it’s going to be Constitutional, something that in the past Baltimore has had a big problem with,” he said.
Deputy City Solicitor Ebony Thompson said the city law department determined a narrowly tailored enforcement plan would not infringe upon panhandlers and squeegee workers’ Constitutional rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined panhandling and solicitation are protected speech under the First Amendment.
Enforcement is only one component of the plan, which officials have touted as a holistic approach that takes advantage of existing social service programs rather than building from the ground up. City officials declined to furnish a copy of the plan to The Sun before Thursday’s news conference despite repeated requests, saying it was still unfinished. The plan was published online after the announcement and is 27 pages long.
A proposed guaranteed income program is still being developed to supplement lost income for workers who are displaced from some of the city’s most lucrative intersections. Faith Leach, the city’s deputy mayor of equity, health and human services, said the collaborative hopes to offer a base income of $250 per month to up to 100 city youths.
Participants could expand that payout by being employed through the city’s Hire Up program, she said. Offered by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, the program offers transitional employment with the city and nonprofits. Collaborative officials hope to leverage the employment program and others that the city already offers to assist squeegee workers with finding alternative employment.
Funding for the guaranteed income program has not yet been solidified. Baltimore is applying for grant funding this month, Leach said.
However, not all squeegee workers are of legal employment age, with some of them younger than 10, said Joe Jones, the CEO of the nonprofit Center for Urban Families. Enforcement that limits even the youngest workers’ ability to produce income could push children into more dangerous, potentially illegal lines of work, Jones said.
“When we disrupt that economy, we don’t want to create unintended consequences where we funnel them into something that is illegal,” said Jones, who co-chairs the squeegee collaborative.
Part of the plan involves sending school-aged children back to school, and city schools will be tasked with visiting squeegee corners and doing outreach, officials said. If a currently enrolled student is found on a corner, school officials will be allowed to take the child back to class, according to the plan.
Victoria Thompson, an 18-year-old squeegee worker who is finishing her high school diploma, said the mentorship, guidance and entrepreneurial opportunities provided under the collaborative’s plan is what folks like her need.
“I‘m here to tell you that we are not animals,” Thompson said. “We are human, we need your help. We squeegeed because we don’t have the money for the basic things like clothing and food. We want a better life, and we just want the guidance and need the guidance to do something positive.”
Thompson is one of more than 186 squeegee workers the city has identified over the past year.
Leach said Thursday that the estimated cost to implement the plan is $5 million, which will come from a mix of sources including philanthropic dollars. Leach said the city can “realign resources” to pay for a portion of the plan.
“There’s a number of nonprofits, there’s millions of dollars of efforts that are already going into mentoring programs,” said collaborative co-chair John Brothers, who is also president of the T. Rowe Price Foundation. “The difference between previous plans is that we’re going to access that.”
The city also is working to create a new platform for motorists to pay workers. Known as Shine, the platform will accept online donations that can be made to specific workers who register with the city, and will be used to help the workers achieve goals, such as obtaining a commercial driver’s license. The money would be disbursed by a nonprofit, although city officials could not say which one.
Officials said the plan will be subject to change including the locations of the no squeegee zones.
“I’m going to be honest with you — there are going to be some failures,” Leach said during an afternoon news conference. “We’re not always going to get it right, but we’re also not going to give up.”
City and business officials alike praised the involvement of the squeegee workers who joined in the collaborative, with Brothers expressing pride in their contributions.