Striving to end homelessness

I was homeless for about nine years here in Baltimore. I’ve stayed in shelters, on park benches, with friends and been couch surfing.  I became an advocate for the homeless shortly before I got permanently housed.

Bmore Housing For All or BHFA is a place where you will meet homeless people who discuss their real issues. What is it like to stand out in frigid temperatures and not be able to get inside the overflow til 8 p.m.?

Wait a second. What is overflow?

It’s a place homeless people can stay when the regular HRC shelter is full. What is it like to take all you possess and carry it around from place to place all day long? Which shelter has bed bugs? Which service provider treats clients well? What shelter has more people banned from it than inside?

These issues and more have arisen and solutions proposed in these weekly meetings. Another big component of BHFA is testifying in Annapolis. BHFA takes homeless people and their allies before the policy makers to advocate for necessary programs and funding. The group is open to all and meets Tuesdays at 11:45 am at Health Care For The Homeless located at 421 Fallsway.

I spent Wednesday in Annapolis with them and the Maryland Alliance for the Poor (Maryland Alliance For The Poor Website) talking to Maryland Delegates and Senators. We were talking about poverty and homelessness and money. I am poor and I was homeless but money? What’s the deal with the money?

group annapolis budget hearing (1)
Front row left to right: Bonnie Lane (author of this, BHFA & HON); Shawn Riley (BHFA, HON); Dwayne Simmons (BHFA, HON); Tam Kelley (BHFA, HON); Rachel Kutler (BHFA, HON). Back row left to right: Adam Schneider (Chair of Maryland Alliance for the Poor-MAP); Neil Bergsman (MAP); Lisa Klingenmaier (MAP), Mark Schumann (BHFA, HON) and Paul Behler (BHFA).

The first committee the advocate army and I testified before was the Maryland House Appropriations Committee. The second was the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee. These two committees vote on The Maryland State Budget and how much money is given to social programs. Why do I care? Why should you care? We are the wealthiest state in the country yet one in 10 of us Maryland residents live below the National Poverty Level.

Many people don’t realize they are they a paycheck away, a foreclosure crisis away, a superstorm Sandy away from becoming homeless.  We were there to give our personal stories of how state funded programs help people and also to highlight things that need improvement.

Dwayne Simmons talked about Homeless Person’s Memorial Day and the fact that 105 homeless people died because they were too poor in 2012.

I testified about how when people are awarded Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) that their food stamp benefits get cut drastically. Try living off $61 a month in food stamps.  Another lady testified about women having to choose between taking a low paying job and not being able to afford daycare or staying on her benefits and having it paid for. The votes these committees cast directly affect my life and millions of people here. It was nice to have a say and participate instead of sitting back and wondering why?

Housing Our Neighbors (HON) is a new group in Baltimore that I belong to. Part of our vision is to see an end to homelessness in Baltimore City. We research and hold people accountable for PR campaigns that don’t help very many people. The city’s 75 Journeys Home campaign is our example for this.

Yay, the city is going to find housing for the 75 “most vulnerable” people most likely to drop dead on the streets. Next week is when the city counts homeless people. Don’t believe the myths! There is no new housing being built for the 75 people at death’s door. Service providers are being asked to reprioritize their waiting lists.

This means that the 75 people who are already at the top to get housed get kicked back down and have to stay homeless longer. What about number 76? What about the 4,013 homeless people left? Aren’t all homeless people vulnerable? HON invites you to join us at the city’s press conference if you believe that 75 Journeys Home isn’t enough! It will be held Friday February 1st from 9:00am until 10:30am at the Cylburn Arboretum Association, 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21209.

The war on poverty could be won if it were funded like our actual military wars. Homelessness is unnecessary according to the federal plan to end it.  It’s sad to be a rich and powerful country like we are and not take care of its citizen’s basic human rights.


Feature photo from BMore housing at sleepout 2012.