Early in the morning on March 8th, city workers dissembled the homeless camp called Camp 83. Afterwards as Nathan Grant noted on twitter, “thecity of Baltimore has erected a fence where #Camp83 once stood”: http://t.co/igq1V1k2KO This is completely and utterly brutal to the homeless I’d say. Kim Truhardt, a Baltimorean who works to speak truth to power posted some photos from the Camp 83 eviction. As a video posted to youtube shows, a protester was able to let them delay the destruction long enough for people who had lived in the camp to get some of their personal belongings and afterwards what they couldn’t get was taken out with a small construction vehicle. Later protesters marched nearby (they even marched to City Hall to relay their concerns) and called for affordable housing while also exclaiming: “Housing is a human right!” On March 1st when I learned about this camp, I wrote that “young Baltimoreans [were] beating up homeless people, homeless women getting sexually assaulted when they go into shelters…[and that as] the city is planning to shut down Camp 83…17 people staying there may not have a place to go.” I also warned, “if this camp is shut down and people are not given permanent housing, then the amount of homeless on the street will increase.” Once again, this shows the ruthlessness of the Blakeocracy over the city of Baltimore. I wondered if the city’s connections to different corporate sectors was relevant to the closing of this camp.
First, its important to give some background what happened yesterday morning using some articles from the Baltimore Brew. The first article was about how yesterday city workers took the remains of the camp and stuffed them into plastic bags which were stuffed into trash trucks. Regardless of this reaction, fifteen of the sixteen homeless residents gave permission via phone the morning of March 8th “for the city to throw away the remains of their camp, in a sliver of land between the Madison Street on-ramp to I-83 and Central Booking.” Luckily a private non-profit named Belvedere Homes gave these residents a place to stay. As another article on the Brew noted, “temporary non-shelter housing has been found for the homeless tent-dwellers…[thanks to] a list of advocacy groups, service providers and city officials as well as representatives of Bon Secours Hospital who worked out the arrangements [to help the tent-dwellers]…were brought together by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.” It was further noted that “the city has agreed to store the camp residents’ belongings for 90 days while they continue to work through the lengthy process of pursuing permanent housing using vouchers they have received” and that after being challenged by homeless activists who also took to the problem of homelessness in the city at-large, city officials said Camp 83 was “a health and safety risk.” This comes to what one could consider the differing perspectives on the camp by those other than those held by city officials [you know their perspective]:
Homeless activists/protesters and homeless groups
- “One man lay down in the bulldozer’s path while another stood in its way, waving a black flag inscribed with the symbol for squatters’ rights”- The Baltimore Sun telling about the one person who was arrested for engaging in civil disobedience just like Arthur Dent in the opening part of The Hitchhikers Guide to the GalaxyAnother story by ABC2 News says that the person that tried to stop the bulldozer but they still went ahead with the destruction of the camp. A picture of the action has also
been posted on twitter and of the other trying to block the destruction in a Baltimore Sub picture posted on Twitter.
- “They want a battle, we will give them a battle!”- Black protester and organizer Tony Simmons in ABC2 News video, in the Baltimore Sun video he calls people to action: “Give us housing and don’t bother us again! So are we ready to fight? [crowd: Yeah!] Are you ready to fight? [crowd: Yeah!] Well we are here brcause the city wants to shut down this encampment here. There’s over 4,000 homeless people and there’s only 2,000 shelter beds. People called this camp home. This has been their home for years…We’re here to tell the mayor we are not going away. This is a fight to the end and we will win this fight. You can’t keep hiding us and moving us around. There’s too many of us. And I want the Mayor to know the city of Baltimore that last year that 105 people died on the street. The only reason why they died is they did not have homes to go to. 105.”
- “The city’s handling of Camp 83 left him “speechless.” He recalled how the 2005 St. Vincent’s Park encampment played out, with housing found for residents before the place was cleared. “About 85% of those people are still housed today – it was a success.”…Today under a different mayor, “Somehow a different encampment policy has been adopted,” Singer said. “To destroy encampments. To scatter the residents to the winds.”…“This is just shameful.””- Former Healthcare for the Homeless president Jeff Singer
- “Protesters at the on-ramp to the Jones Falls Expressway north…[included] Singer…among about 25 people who held signs for passing motorists and the media saying, “Is this how we treat our neighbors?” and “Is this how we end homelessness?”” (source)
- “She said she was disappointed by the city’s conduct and found it “strange.” “It became clear that housing was not a priority here…the city was simply interested in destroying the encampment and removing the people.”- Antonia Fasanelli, executive director of the Homeless Person’s Representation Project (source)
- “Other protesters formed a semicircle around the site, chanting, “Fight, fight, fight. Housing is a human right” and “What do we want? Housing. When do we want it? Now!” (source)
- “The city violated its own “housing first” policy outlined in a 10-year plan to end homelessness, the Journey Home. The policy calls for permanent housing for the homeless as a first step toward stabilizing their lives.”We want to draw attention to the fact homelessness was not solved today…What the city did was wash their hands of responsibility“”- Rachel Kutler, an advocate with Housing Our Neighbors, the bolded statement is what she actually said, the other part is what was written by the Baltimore Sun
- “Tam Kelley, an advocate with Housing Our Neighbors, said she was disappointed in city leaders’ decision not to pay for permanent housing for the encampment’s residents, especially after the administration pumped $1 million into the city-owned Hilton Baltimore to help pay off its debt. That cash came from money generated by the hotel tax and is intended to drum up further economic development. “It’s incredibly disrespectful,” Kelley said.”- source
- “Yesterday we came and got all the campers out of here and took ’em to a house that Christina Flowers opened up. And we got furniture in there, clothes, new clients. The house is fully furnished. Mary Pat Clarke came up with a resolution because the city of Baltimore was taking forever to decide on such a simple issue.”- Charles Canter, Belvedere Assisted Living
- “We will need to discuss what the city’s policy is in regard to how these camps are closed. And if the policy changed over the years, what new information caused the policy to change.”- Councilman Bill Henry yesterday warning Kate Briddell, Baltimore City’s director of homeless services
- “We can’t lose this opportunity. They say we need 10 year plan to end homelessness, that better involves the entire community so people don’t feel like the outside looking in at city government.”- Mary Pat Plake
- “He said at the shelter [provided by the city] he felt his belongings weren’t secure, he’d been grabbed inappropriately “between my legs” by staff and wasn’t able to take his dog inside, noting that he has bipolar disorder and severe depression and needs his animal companion. A former Amtrak employee…Quartermain said he found emergency shelter rules oppressive, particular the requirement to be in the building by 1:30 p.m. “I found that appalling [for them] to tell me, as a grown man that I can’t go outside”…Now he’s got a room in a house near Patterson Park, some furniture and contributes a portion of his social security check toward the rent. “I’m blessed,” he said. A number of ailments…have been aggravated by sleeping outside, he said.”- Nathaniel Quartermain – the 53-year-old “Mayor” of Camp 83, who chose to live outside (source)
- “In a way, I didn’t want them to stop the eviction because I knew people were going to help us live somewhere else. People have been so, so nice to us, bringing us all kinds of things. I don’t have to live here any more.”- A former resident of the camp, Tracy Jones who cried when I saying those words (after seeing her former home, a tent where she and her husband had been lived he told the Brew she also cried in sadness as well) [source] Another interview on ABC2 News in which Tracy Jones notes that she was sexually assaulted and had stuff stolen from her when she lived in the shelter while also noting that she was seoerated from her husband in the shelter. In the Baltimore Sun video, she says that “they didn’t even give an option to shelter because I was there before back in 2011 and I had all were sorts of problems randing from sexual harassment from the staff over there at Code Blue to like theft…[of] everything. There’s a lot of theft [there].
- “Tracy Jones…and her husband, Charlie…were going home…into a sparsely furnished rowhouse on Dumbarton Avenue…and be reunited with their four children…while the Joneses…and many of the encampment residents…saw the eviction as a a positive start”- According to the Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun
- “We know the city has resources on Hiltons that are failing, so why can’t these resources be used to help out these vulnerable Baltimoreans. And this was just one encampment of many so we’re trying to figure out a way to let individuals that this is a problem that needs sustainable resources.”- Lisa Klingenmeier of Housing Our Neighbors
Now, the question is if the funders of the Rawlings-Blake or “Failings-Blake” administration had some effect on the closing of the camp. What I wrote on January 1st is still relevant:
“More than a year ago after Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was elected as the Mayor of Baltimore again, Occupy Baltimore was evicted on a day which everyone should remember, December 13th, 2011. Police in riot gear appeared in Inner Harbor’s McKeldin Square at 3:15 PM and the remaining forty protesters departed…Just getting complaints from businesses isn’t enough to shut down an encampment, right? In order to find the answer, I looked at the campaign contributions given out by some of the major banks through the secure Maryland Board of Elections site, in the page called “Campaign Finance“…These results, which I uncovered tell a story that seems to be clear…publicly available campaign finance reports…show that numerous corporate entities were contributors to the Stephanie-Rawlings Blake mayoral campaign…I believe the corporate connected nature of the current mayor…is something that social movements in the city of Baltimore should keep in mind, if they are challenging the merged private and public spheres.”
Specifically I noted that the contributors to the Rawlings-Blake campaign included numerous private law firms, residential housing development and construction companies, a human services organization named Sheridan Patterson which claims to “to raise funds to meet the needs of the less fortunate,” building contractors, and investment companies among others. On top oft his, collectively, Comcast Corporation, Morola Solutions and Exelon Corporation gave 5500 dollars to the Rawlings-Blake machine while 6,500 was transferred from them to PACs of Comcast and PNC Bank. Could these connections relate to the closing of the camp? Perhaps. Its hard to know. But what we can know is that the argument put forward by the mayor is one that has its own problems. I’ll address it point by point [these are only responses to what I believe are what the city would say about this]
1. CITY: The camp was dangerous and unhealthy. This may be true, but destroying the camp is not an effective way to combat homelessness. Also, there has been many stories of Trans homeless people being discriminated against in the city’s homeless shelters as well. The fact is that the facilities provided by the city were not any less safe or dangerous according to eyewitness reports of those camping out at Camp 83. A UPI article notes:
Advocates for the homeless criticized the city’s approach, saying many in the encampment are there precisely because they do not want to live in the shelters…Venus Wiles…said…clearing the camp will only make matters worse. “You’re going to have more people laying downtown on the sidewalk, or on the curbs or on the steps,” she warned. “Hopefully, we can find affordable housing. It’s really hard to find a job when you’re homeless and really hard to find a home when you’re jobless. I want what I used to have, a normal life.” City leaders said they’re clearing the camp because it isn’t safe…”You might live in the dirt … but at least you have peace,” said Kevin Gipson, who lives in the encampment. “I don’t understand that. We ain’t never had no trouble.”
If you don’t believe these stories, then why did the ACLU get outraged about this in October 2011? According to IndyReader, they said that:
“On Monday October 24th, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) sent a letter to Baltimore Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, demanding intervention in the discriminatory and illegal denial of overflow shelter beds to homeless women at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Housing and Resource Center…The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Housing and Resource Center (HRC)…has 175 beds for men and 75 beds for women—this is a significant reduction for women who had 175 beds previously allotted to them at the Code Blue shelter. Despite a 20% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, according to the City’s official homeless census, a decision was made that there be 100 less beds for women than the old shelter…In an October 25th join press release by the ACLU and HPRP, attorney Carolyn Johnson said, “Homeless women who live on the streets are particularly vulnerable to victimization, including physical and sexual assault. The City’s refusal to provide overflow shelter to women is shocking.”…The letter details the unlawful policy and behavior of Baltimore City’s Homeless Services as well as Jobs, Housing, Recovery (JHR)—the non-profit contractor who operates the shelter under the supervision of the City. The ACLU and HPRP argue that when the City offers a service to men and not to women, they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the Maryland State Equal Rights Amendment—both of which have been held up by decades of legal precedent.”
3. CITY: There are already enough homeless shelters in the city. In the interactive budget game put out on the city’s website, this is also assumed as well. However, as Mark Steiner noted on his show, this is not the case and in fact there have been cut backs to help to those who are homeless. A case in point is the emergency “code blue” program (also here) which is falsely represented because one commentator notes “Reducing access to life-saving Code Blue shelter services gives us the chills…Each year, too many of our homeless neighbors experience frostbite, amputations and even death because they lack adequate shelter.” (source). One must remember that these “code blue” shelters are only in the winter, meaning in other months they aren’t open as long hours, putting people on the streets. There was even cutbacks reported as far back as 2007 (probably earlier) and times when homeless shelters like one in Charles Village accidentally filled out an online version of a funding form wrong, resulting in them not getting money from the city to run the shelter and resulting in them having to close up shop (source). Additionally as groups like Baltimore Outreach Services note, “it is estimated that there are 4,000 individuals who are homeless in Baltimore [on any given night including] women and children…[who] compris[e]…43 percent of all individuals in need of shelter.” On any given year, thanks to over 42,000 units of vacant housing, it may be as many as 30,000 individuals! This is partly because “it’s pretty much impossible [to get housing] in Baltimore City [because rent] is about $750 a month for a single-bedroom apartment, and…you would have to work two full-time minimum-wage jobs to afford it.”
4. CITY: The camp is being cleared because it is a health and safety hazard. In an UPI story, one former resident of the encampment noted: “the camp has been targeted because city leaders find it embarrassing…[while] living there are trying to improve their lives.” This is telling because if its accurate then it is really despicable for those who lived in the tent city.
5. CITY: We gave the residents temporary housing and are working on giving them permanent housing. This is incorrect. If Mary Pat Clarke hadn’t come in and coordinated a number of different groups including the city government, those at the camp [except the one who engaged in civil disobedience] wouldn’t have even been able to get temporary housing at a private non-profit named Belvedere Homes. However, when this group decides they can’t stay there anymore, then these people will be thrown out on the street, resulting in more problems for the city. Additionally, not all the residents are able to put in vouchers for permanent housing, instead such vouchers will be given to only some of the remaining fifteen members who are even eligible to apply. Everyone else will be screwed.
6. CITY: We were able to combat drugs and crime by closing the camp. First off, the camp was a peaceful place in terms of the fact that camp-dwellers didn’t hurt each other. There may have been people from outside the camp that committed crimes in the camp. Already some of the homeless said that they were beat up by young Baltimoreans who could be either white or black. Also, some words by then-CEO of Healthcare for the Homeless Jeff Singer are telling in this regard as well. He told Indypendent Reader that: “it’s curious to think that mental illness or substance abuse have anything to do with personal responsibility. We believe that homelessness is fundamentally caused by a political and economic system. By structures that maintain poverty, that maintain an inadequate supply of affordable housing, and that prevent people from getting access to services they need, especially healthcare…There are more than 100,000 people in Baltimore City who don’t have health insurance. So these are the fundamental problems that we need to address…there is a personal aspect to homelessness, but I don’t believe it’s personal irresponsibility that causes it.”
There are some other points that should be made. A Los Angeles-based non profit named Beyond Shelter writes that while “transitional housing programs do provide such assistance, families are more responsive to service interventions from a stable, permanent housing base,” which is exactly what activists in Baltimore want. There is also some troubling information.The City auditor in a 2002 report noted that Baltimore City’s “Office of Homeless Services (OHS) overcharged the State Emergency and Transitional Housing Services Program (ETHS) funds for…My Sister’s Place, during fiscal year 2002” and that the State of Maryland’s Department of Social Services (DSS) was billed by the motel for rates higher than the grant agreement with the City and the motel in June 2001 and April 2002 (meaning the city was overcharged by the state). There’s more. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless that parts of the business community are trying to criminalize parts of homelessness. What they write that the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore which celebrated the clearing of an encampment in Baltimore City back in 2008 according to Indypendent Reader is as follows:
The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore launched “The Make a Change” campaign to “quell the fears of tourists” and “protect” the downtown area. The program targets panhandlers and Baltimore’s homeless population of nearly 3000 people. The “Make a Change Campaign” discourages visitors from giving money to panhandlers by recommending donations in boxes that the Partnership will distribute to local businesses. This money in turn will go to Baltimore Homeless Services Inc., a quasi-public agency that serves the homeless community. Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, called the campaign “the supply-side strategy, while law enforcement would be the demand side.” Fowler added that the downtown area is safe but that “an abundance of panhandlers often gives visitors to the city a negative impression.” In the past the Partnership has unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill that would have made sleeping or camping in the downtown area illegal. It is currently illegal to panhandle at night unless passively holding a sign, and aggressive panhandling has also been outlawed. Amidst Downtown Baltimore’s redevelopment, particularly the Westside, advocates are reporting anecdotal increases in arrests for “public nuisance” crimes. People living their private lives in public places collect these citations in great number. When these citations become part of their criminal record they can block access to housing, employment, and public benefit programs in the future. The governor vetoed a state law, which would have permitted the expungement of non-violent “nuisance” crimes, after passage by the House and Senate of the Maryland General Assembly.
I looked up this group the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and found some interesting results. The first website that came up which claimed to make Baltimore more walkable had the following partners:
I went through these sponsors. The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is officially “a non-profit corporation that creates a more vibrant community for businesses, property owners, residents, employees, and visitors” has groups like BGE, Southern Management Corporation, One Main Financial, the Daily Record, and General Growth Properties, Inc. on their DMA [Downtown Management Authority] board and groups like huge bank BB&T, Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Transamerica, Constellation, M&T Bank, and Hilton Baltimore are on the board of the partnership itself. The next group, the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore billed itself as a “not-for-profit economic development organization led by a partnership of regional business executives, elected government officials and leaders…focused on fostering business retention and development, job creation, workforce development and new investment throughout the Greater Baltimore region.” (source) On its board of directors there are a number of more business groups including Merritt Properties LLC., Bank of America, BB&T, PNC Bank, M&T Bank, BGE, and Baltimore Business Journal (source). The last one I looked at Baltimore Development Corporation which doesn’t even shy away from the fact they aren’t helping create jobs: “Our job is to insure that Baltimore is meeting the needs of its business community, to the greatest extent possible, every day.” This means in translated words that they are serving big business. Their partners are a number of interesting seemingly business-linked groups as well (source).
I come to the conclusion. What is the best way to end homelessness in Baltimore and Maryland in general? According to different groups that can help the homeless including Healthcare for the Homeless, Project Phalse, Stop Homelessness and Reduce Poverty or S.H.A.R.P. , Housing Our Neighbors, the Baltimore Homeless Youth Initiative, and Bmore Housing for All, it seems that the best approach is to provide permanent housing. However, this is only part of the battle as there are other encampments in the city. The other part is to push for good, well-paying jobs in the city of Baltimore. This will be an uphill fight with big business and their allies in government but it can be done. In the end there must be a re-invigoration of what’s left of Maryland’s occupy movement including the one based right in Baltimore.