Feedback

City reserves right to clear homeless camps before residents are resettled

A Brew Exclusive: We publish the city's policy on when and how it will dismantle homeless encampments.

homeless encampment

Residents of this encampment, two blocks from City Hall, have been notified that they will be evicted when the Farmers’ Market reopens next month.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

The Rawlings-Blake administration has disclosed its “Protocol for Dismantling Homeless Encampments,” emphasizing its right to raze any settlement deemed unsafe or unsanitary even “if permanent housing cannot be secured by the date the encampment is scheduled to be cleared.”

The three pages of guidelines – placed on the record at a City Council hearing last night – say that the Mayor’s Office of Human Services will appoint a project coordinator to take charge of dismantling a homeless camp, who will then assign an “outreach team” to notify campers of the date when the encampment will be cleared.

The administration’s more aggressive tactics to curb the spread of homeless camps – reminiscent of the “Hoovervilles” built by unemployed workers during the Great Depression – came to light  when “Camp 83″ was razed last week near the Madison Street entrance to the Jones Falls Expressway.

The Brew has learned that the city is preparing to evict about 17 homeless people living under the JFX on Holliday Street, just two blocks from City Hall. Members of the camp said in interviews that they have been told to clear out their belongings before the Farmers’ Market opens on April 7.

“They haven’t bothered us before, but now they say we gotta go,” said a man who identified himself as Rob and said he has been living in homeless camps under the JFX for the last three winters.

“This is an eyesore for the city, when you think about it,” he added, looking at the piles of blankets and plastic bags nestled between a concrete barrier and parking spaces. “It’s just that no one know where they gonna go. We call this home. It’s pretty secure. We look out for each other.”

Asked if the camp was rife with drugs, as a city official alleged was the case at Camp 83, Rob said, “My response is, that’s a lie. It may involve a few people who pass by here on the street. For the most part, we drink.”

According to the city’s guidelines, when “any encampment is identified,” the mayor’s office will conduct a health and safety assessment to determine “whether safety concerns can be mitigated or whether the illegal encampment needs to be cleared.”
________________________________________________________
FULL TEXT OF THE EVICTION PROTOCOL BELOW
________________________________________________________
If the camp is determined to be unsafe or unsanitary, the project coordinator will arrange with the Department of Public Works to clear the site and the Department of Transportation to “secure” the property after it is cleared.

The city promises that DPW workers will provide storage bags and a 90-day storage facility for evicted campers and will assist them “with bagging and labeling items to be transported to the storage facility.”

Last Friday, city workers plowed through Camp 83 with a bulldozer, after receiving permission from the campers, who were given temporary shelter through a special arrangement with a homeless care provider who contacted City Council member and homeless advocate Mary Pat Clarke.

Police Presence

The city’s protocol calls on the police to try to avoiding making arrests during homeless evictions and notes that “plainclothes officers are ideal.”

“Visible police presence should be kept to a minimum unless a stronger presence (e.g. riot police) is needed to ensure safety in a large crowd situation. If people obstruct the clean-up or refuse to leave, police will intervene to ensure people are required to move in as peaceful a manner as possible,” the document says.

Kate Bridell, director of the Office of Homeless Programs, spoke briefly before a City Council committee last night.

Kate Bridell, director of the Office of Homeless Programs, spoke briefly at last night’s hearing. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Noting that permanent housing via government-funded programs may not be available for the evicted because “the referral and lease-up process for permanent housing can take several months,” the document says that the campers “will be informed of their options for temporary placement on the date of the action.”

“They [the evicted campers] are free to choose or decline any of these options, and will continue to be assisted by outreach workers regardless of their choice,” the document says, though it is unclear how outreach workers will stay in contact with homeless who disappear from a razed encampment.

The guidelines were given to the City Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee  following brief testimony by Kate Bridell, director of the Office of Homeless Programs. During the Camp 83 controversy, committee chairman Bill Henry had requested information on the city’s eviction policy and whether that policy has changed.

Bridell and Olivia Farrow, director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, were not asked how long the current policy has been in effect. Last night’s hearing centered on the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, known as The Journey Home, with homeless advocates saying the program fell far short of dealing with the homeless crisis.

Lack of Affordable Housing

Noting that homelessness has increased dramatically since the 10-year plan was unveiled in 2008, Antonia Fasanelli, executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project, said the root cause for the estimated 4,100 people without shelter on any given night in Baltimore is “an inadequate supply of affordable housing.”

“We can’t end homelessness merely by ending homelessness,” Adam Schneider, director of community relations for Health Care for the Homeless, told the panel. He said 150,000 residents now live in poverty – and 12,000 survive on less than $200 a month – which make homelessness an everyday possibility.

Jeff Singer, retired CEO of Health Care for the Homeless, called the city’s policies regarding homeless encampments arbitrary and mean-spirited. He said the city “destroyed” a homeless encampment on Martin Luther King Blvd. last year shortly before the Martin Luther King Day Parade.

He said he could only believe that the city took such action so that participants and visitors couldn’t see evidence of the poor and disenfranchised whose plight Dr. King had dedicated his life to improving.

 Text of Guidelines Submitted to the City Council:

Be sure to check our full comment policy before leaving a comment.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

    The Brew wrote: ” … Jeff Singer, retired CEO of Health Care for the Homeless … said he could only believe that the city took such action so that
    participants and visitors couldn’t see evidence of the poor and
    disenfranchised whose plight Dr. King had dedicated his life to
    improving. …”

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Really? Singer doesn’t think these encampments present any health issues? Some quick Googling offers what would seem to be an obvious assessment:

    http://www.popcenter.org/problems/homeless_encampments/

    ” … Unhealthy encampment conditions.Conditions in
    homeless encampments can be dangerous to health. Garbage attracts rodents and
    other vermin. Food cannot be stored, and dishes cannot be washed properly,
    facilitating the spread of food-borne diseases. Depending on a camp’s location,
    some residents might use portable toilets or public facilities, but most are
    likely to use an outdoor location. Poor hygiene contributes to dental and skin
    problems.11
    Other environmental hazards, such as batteries and fuels, are used for heating
    and cooking.12 … There is some indication that tuberculosis and
    sexually-transmitted diseases are of special concern.14
    Many transients living in encampments report addiction to drugs or alcohol.15 
    …”

    • oliviarh

      Whoa, James Hunt, Google.  Funny thing about Google is that you can make any point you want by saying “I Googled such and such and here is what I found.”  Well . . . I Googled “hiding the homeless from tourists” and guess what I found?

  • ZacharyMurray

    The homeless and advocates for them should build an encampment on the plaza in front of City Hall, similar to what Dr. King organized for the Poor People’s movement in DC. Under O’Malley, the city banned feeding the homeless in front of city hall and pushed it under 83, now they’re moving those folks and pretty much eliminating the little bit of security they managed to provide for themselves. I can’t help but view the recent actions of the city against the homeless as shameful. 

  • asteroid_B612

    “…the root cause for the estimated 4,100 people without shelter on any given night in Baltimore is “an inadequate supply of affordable housing.””

    So how much per month in rent makes an apartment “affordable”? Ms. Fasanelli leaves that part out. What about affordable utilities, brought to you by our friends at BGE, who have blacklisted large portions of the City population because of unpaid bills from many years ago? How much per month to BGE is affordable to the homeless?

    If there’s a lack of affordable housing, why have people abandoned 20,000+ City properties because they are worthless? Does affordable housing really mean free housing? Who would pay the the $30-40 million or so per year to provide free housing to all of the homeless? What about all of the persons living in truly substandard housing, which is easily 10 times the number of homeless? That would be another $300-400 million per year.

    The “inadequate supply of affordable housing” mantra repeated ad nauseum by some homeless advocates is meaningless and a disservice to the homeless unless they define in concrete, monetary terms, what it is they actually mean by the phrase.

    What the homeless really need is a large scale investment in social services and a structured living environment so that they can transition back to the regular or subsidized housing market. This sort of housing is expensive and necessary, and definitely not “affordable” to someone who has nothing.

  • bmorepanic

    To me, its proof of of the heartlessness of SRB’s administration.  I’ll bet someone thought it degraded the farmer’s market scene or their drive to work.  It’s damn uncomfortable to see human beings living in shanty towns, but removing an encampment

    As far as I know, it is not possible to house all of the homeless in temporary shelters because we don’t have nearly the beds of temporary shelter needed. http://www.baltimorebrew.com/2012/01/17/city-to-add-75-beds-to-emergency-homeless-shelter/ Emergency beds are not allocated by the week or by the month – its for one night only, no storage, no cooking facilities, no other services or care given.  The next night, you get in line again.  People with the same sorts of medical conditions and addiction issues share the temporary shelter beds – but in closer quarters.  So, that tuberculosis their worried about?  Yeah – it’ll spread faster in a dorm shelter.

    I find all of the reasons listed in Mr. Hunt’s list to be reasons for supplying permanent housing rather than letting people remain without a place to call home where they can at least have a room of their own, a secure place to keep their belongings, access to bathrooms, laundry and cooking facilities.  I don’t disbelieve its costly to provide permanent housing for the poor – figuring that out is above my paygrade.  

    If the costs were evaluated in the same way as the city projects “economic activity” by costing both the direct and indirect costs, are the all in costs of having a substantial homeless population really less than providing permanent housing? 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/UBB5DQH4Q7OHNZVKLHEAKTXKLY Matthew

    The folks residing in the camps should have to pick up their own garbage before being approached for any assistance. Why would you give someone housing of any type after they trashed the last place they lived.

  • axbca

    Wonder what the scene would be like if these folks had the right, totally without restriction, to pack heat? Shoot ‘em up.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

    bmorepanic wrote: ” … I find all of the reasons listed in Mr. Hunt’s list to be reasons for supplying permanent housing rather than letting people remain without a place to call home where they can at least have a room of their own, a secure place to keep their belongings, access to bathrooms, laundry and cooking facilities. I don’t disbelieve its costly to provide permanent housing for the poor – figuring that out is above my paygrade. …”
     
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
     
    Clarification: the list isn’t mine … and by all means, hit the link I included because there are a lot more reasons for not allowing homeless encampments.

    http://www.popcenter.org/problems/homeless_encampments/
     
    As far as cost goes, Baltimore City has budgeted money in 2013 for homeless prevention ($1,021,825), outreach to homeless ($1,016,055), temporary housing ($11,492,692), and permanent housing for the homeless ($24,209,839).
     
    That’s a total of $37,750,411, more than the budget of the Pratt ($33,444,932) or Parks and Rec ($33,035,965). Way, way more than Art and Culture get ($7,779,351).
     
    It’s roughly $9,200 spent for each of the estimated 4,100 homeless in the city, or slightly more than the _city_ tax bill on a residential property with an assessed value of $400,000.
     
    And the $9200 figure doesn’t include what dozens of non-profits like Our Daily Bread, Christopher Place Employment Center, etc. etc. and hundreds of volunteers spend caring for the homeless.

    So, how much more should we spend? And is there no line defining what’s acceptable? Should taxpayers have to bear the additional burden of paying to clean up any public space in which someone decides to squat?

    (I won’t alarm anyone with my mad Google skillz, but a lot of people in very liberal west coast cities have already decided the answer to that last question is: hell, no. You could also look up what DC, New York, and Boston spent cleaning up their public spaces once they rousted the “Occupiers”).

    Anyway, I’m with Pope Francis: we have to care for people who are struggling. Chastising SRB for trying to maintain a modicum of order in our fair city hardly counts as “caring,” however.

  • Insider

    I would like to note that the 10 year plan – Journey Home has been going on well before 2008, probably as early as 2003 if not before.

    • baltimorebrew

      Baltimore City established its first homeless program in 1983, so there’s been govt. involvement with homelessness for many years. However it was in 2008 that the homeless “problem” got its new name (“The Journey Home”), its own 10-year plan (funny how many 10-year plans we now have) and big media rollout. -MR

  • Day_Star

    The root cause of [long term] homelessness is not a lack of affordable housing, but mental illness and drug addiction. For the remaining long-term homeless persons, it’s not an issue of affordability, but simply having neither cash flow nor the ability to obtain assistance.

    Ms. Fasanelli seems to be worried that mental illness and drug addiction will not elicit enough sympathy — I disagree. Many cities and counties have successful programs for re-housing some long term homeless persons, but it involves up to 100% rent subsidy (different from affordability because affordablity doesn’t mean free) and social services for the root causes of their predictament. There is a portion of homeless persons, of course, that simply can’t live and function in a housing community and live beside neighbors (let alone damaging or even burning down the housing unit). Unfortunately, the State cannot afford mental health hospitals and institutions that existed pre-1980.

More of the Daily Drip »

Below the Fold

  • March 24, 2014

    • Last Thursday, I sent an email to the Mayor’s Office of Communications asking for some basic responsiveness: Please return our emailed queries and phone calls about stories. Please send us the same routine emails you send to other members of the media. Lately, more so than usual, they haven’t been. It’s a shame because, even [...]

Twitter

Facebook