Baltimore business leaders met privately Monday morning with City Hall and police officials to discuss frustrations with and possible solutions to the “squeegee kids” activity downtown.
Executives from T. Rowe Price Group and other large downtown firms requested the meeting in an Aug. 28 email to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council President Brandon Scott and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison ― all three of whom were in attendance Monday.
City officials agreed to organize a small working group with business leaders to discuss ways to help the young people who work busy intersections around downtown to earn money cleaning windshields.
Harrison also explained legal limitations the federal government has placed on policing the youth, Young said following Monday’s meeting.
“Not one of them talked about arresting them,” Young said of the business community’s discussions of the squeegeeing. “They understand the deep causes of why they’re doing that. I was really encouraged by the leadership of the business community to want to help.”
T. Rowe President Bill Stromberg, who wrote the email, said following the meeting that there was “great dialogue" with Young, his team and Harrison. Stromberg declined to answer further questions.
Other attendees included about 20 representatives of businesses and organizations, including the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Morgan Stanley, Cushman & Wakefield, Constellation, Miles & Stockbridge, the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor, M&T Bank, Transamerica, First National Bank and owners of several downtown commercial and residential buildings.
Squeegee youth were not present at the meeting because it took place during school hours. Some young people have said city officials assume they know what’s best for squeegee workers without directly consulting them.
“I don’t really think they care,” said Keyon, who did not want to share his last name, as he and another teen cleaned windshields Monday with a spray bottles full of dish soap and water along the 1600 block of W. Mount Royal Ave.
However, the mayor, the commissioner and other City Hall staffers have interviewed multiple squeegee workers throughout the summer, said Lester Davis, Young’s spokesman.
In September, Young unveiled a new “Squeegee Alternative Plan” in an effort to address the underlying poverty he says is driving many of the squeegee workers to the streets.
Some squeegee workers have clashed with motorists in confrontations that have been captured on viral videos. The youth say it can be scary work, but it helps them feed their families and it’s better than alternatives such as selling drugs.
Police have logged more than 1,200 squeegee-related complaints since they began tracking them in June.
Harrison spent a portion of Monday’s meeting explaining that police submitted a strategy for addressing the squeegee problem to the U.S. Department of Justice, which rejected the proposal, Young said.
Police did not respond to a request for comment on Harrison’s proposal.
“As long as they’re on the pavement, it’s their constitutional right to stand there,” Young said. “The issue comes when they’re impeding traffic. As long as they’re not creating a criminal act, they will not be arrested. But we’re going to try to keep them off the street."
To address safety concerns, city officials deployed three police officers on bikes this summer to patrol portions of downtown where squeegee workers tend to operate, but they have made no arrests, Young said earlier this month.
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Young’s squeegee plan, overseen by his newly created Office of Children & Family Success, still needs $750,000 of funding to support its estimated $1 million first year budget. The mayor said the businesses seemed interested in offering financial support.
The office is seeking permission from the City Board of Estimates to solicit in-kind and monetary donations for the Squeegee Alternative Plan, according to this week’s board agenda.
A potential donor list will include individuals, corporate, entities, churches and foundations that “contribute to the economic, social, and cultural vitality of Baltimore City,” the agenda states.
Baltimore has long struggled to draw young people away from squeegeeing on street corners. City Hall officials have crafted multiple plans to address the issue since the mid-1980s with little success.
Officials say squeegee workers often face complex hurdles to more traditional employment, including a lack of government paperwork and an immediate need for cash.
Downtown Partnership chairwoman Shelonda Stoke believes those in attendance Monday are “solutions-minded.” Still, Stokes, also president and CEO of Baltimore-based video collective known as greiBO, said the problem can’t be solved in an hour.
“We all want to eradicate squeegeeing as an issue,” she said. “The mayor’s office can’t do it alone, the business community can’t do it alone. And our kids need us.”