There is an encampment of wonderful homeless people under 1-83 diagonally from the city’s prized, Housing Resource Center (HRC), Baltimore’s biggest shelter. Some of these “campers” I’ve known for a while and some I just met in their home.
Mr. Nate also known as the camp mayor greeted us and offered us seats. A pleasant gentleman, Nate said he camped by choice. He camps because of the horrible conditions at the HRC. “I’m a grown man and they treat clients like children.” Nate said his case worker came to the camp last week and told him about the pending eviction of the camp on February 26th.
Mellow talked with me next. “I lost my job. That’s what caused me to be homeless. I have kids. They are in Montgomery county and being taken care of. I’m out here struggling for them. The shelter doesn’t allow a man to work. You are out at 4:30 or 5 am and you have to line back up at noon. At least, I can look for and do some work being here.”
I left the camp with a lot of my mind and many questions. Why are these people being evicted? Why now? I am still waiting for the answers. I called the Mayor’s Director of Policy & Communications and left a voice mail.
Later on Wednesday, I returned to talk to the campers with the social work student, Kait Mc Donough and two fellow homeless advocates Tony & Shakazulu. This time there were many people waiting to talk with us. Mayor Nate had convened a camp meeting. One of Mayor Nate’s questions was, “How come no one official from the city has come to talk to us yet?” I told him that I didn’t know why and I would keep asking the city until I got an answer.
Point blank the system has failed these homeless people as well as thousands across the country living in encampments like this one. Charles and Tracy Jones granted me an interview to tell their side of this tragic story. “We’ve been here camped since Jan 29, 2012. We were both at BBH (Baltimore Behavioral Health). BBH started charging $300 a person to stay. That is $600 and our $185 TDAP checks aren’t enough.” said Charles.
Charles & Tracy Jones
When I asked the couple about staying in the city shelter, Tracy said, “I did it before and I didn’t like it. There’s too much stealing. I had my medication stolen. They separate couples. You have to sign in at noon. If I have a doctor’s appointment I have to choose between it or a shelter bed. They pat you down and frisk you.”
Charles had a job as a carpet installer and Tracy worked as a bartender/server. The housing authority has failed Charles Jones. He was on the Section 8 waiting list since 2007. In May 2012, he went into their office on Pratt Street to learn they had made a computer error. The error was they were sending his mail to the right street address with the wrong zip code. This caused Charles to be removed from the list because he hadn’t replied to two notices. Charles housing application has been withdrawn and he now is waiting for a hearing.
“Everywhere I turned a door is slammed I my face. I’ve been fighting with the housing office on Pratt since 2007.”
Charles and Tracy have four children between them. Their children are ages 2 5, 5 and 11. The children are split among multiple family members until this homeless couple can secure housing. They thanked me for helping them tell their story. I left the camp again full of questions which I intend to ask until I have the answers.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stated, “Homelessness is unnecessary.” at the recent 75 Journeys Home press conference. My questions to her and her office are: Why this encampment eviction? Doesn’t it make these homeless people even more vulnerable? Does the city intend to provide real housing for these people? The shelter fills up most days at noon. Where should they go? How does this help Baltimore’s ten year plan to end homelessness?”
I will be writing updates on this story as details unfold and probably questioning the Mayor’s Office in person. I am committed to helping save the 83 encampment. If you wish to join me in the fight to either get housing for these people or save their camp, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was reprinted from Word on the Street, a newspaper published by Baltimore’s homeless.