City removes homeless encampment, advocates and people experiencing homelessness protest, critique Mayor Pugh

Screencap courtesy The Real News Network

In front of City Hall on Friday, Jan. 26, about two dozen people gathered in protest of Mayor Catherine Pugh and the city, which earlier that morning had removed everybody from a homeless encampment under 83 near Guilford Avenue and Bath Street and tossed their belongings.

“No housing, no peace. No housing, no peace,” the mix of those experiencing homeless, advocates, and activists shouted.

Two weeks earlier, Baltimore officials announced they were going to raze the encampment citing unsafe and unsanitary conditions. The city pledged to do outreach to the residents. Instead of placement at city shelters, they offered them “dormitory-style housing” at the Volunteers of America Bridge Housing facility on the 5000 block of E. Monument Street. Evictions such as this one have happened a few times over the past several years and are seen as cruel and temporary solutions to the homelessness problem.

“This is number six [eviction] for the real care providers to experience how the city continues to deal with our homeless individuals, especially those on the street,” said advocate Christina Flowers, referencing other homeless sweeps over the past few years including August 2017’s Tent City eviction and a June 2015 removal of an encampment on Martin Luther King Boulevard and W. Franklin Street, which resulted in the area under the overpass being blocked and fenced in.

The city paid Volunteers of America $705,828.92 to house and provide services to those who were evicted for six months, The Baltimore Brew reported, and many have demanded transparency in how that money was spent.

“We need to see evidence of what the city claimed that they are doing pertaining to our homeless population,” advocate Richard T. White declared at City Hall. “We need to see evidence of monies that’s being utilized pertaining to citizens that are homeless here in Baltimore City.”

A couple hours earlier, city workers arrived at Guilford Avenue under 83 to throw away all of their belongings and were met by protest. Many threw their belongings onto the street to slow down the eviction process and some stood in the street, blocking traffic.

“A lot of the people that live out here decided to take a stand,” said Tony Simmons. “They’re just gonna bring attention to the city, that they don’t wanna keep being moved and shuffled around like cattle.”

“I’m homeless. I ain’t got no house. I been out here seven years. They ain’t helping me. They just wanna move everybody off the streets,” said Shaq, who had been removed from the encampment.

Tarra Martin, who said she has been experiencing homelessness for eight years, showed the Real News her blanket and tarp, which was going to be thrown out.

“[People from the mayor’s office] haven’t met with everybody. There’s a lot of people they definitely haven’t met with,” Martin said, countering the mayor’s office claims.

In an email, Terry F. Hickey, director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, said the city and nonprofit organizations conducted extensive outreach.

“We are confident everyone had notice of the pending action,” Hickey wrote. “Some may disagree on face value with any action involving encampments, but this fails to take into consideration that complexities of the issues surrounding homelessness.”

Many of those experiencing homelessness pointed out that the new shelter in east Baltimore is far from their work and homeless services, concentrated downtown. This too reflects criticisms during the Tent City eviction where many were offered shelter at the former William Pinderhughes Elementary in Upton, far from City Hall, where they had been camped out.

3rd District Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who has visited the Volunteers of America Bridge Housing facility, also criticized the location.

“It should be obvious this isn’t a place that would set people up for success by having nearby access to jobs or other aspects we consider fundamental to a high quality of life,” Dorsey said. “Setting a deadline for displacement is not an adequate substitute for doing the work of actually reaching people, to work in their service, without taking from them the dignity of self-determination. Leaving people with no choice but to go somewhere else is inhumane, and its not different from any other form of displacement associated with gentrification.”

“People who are now moved into the VOA facility are being well taken care of and are on a road to permanent housing and getting the support they very much deserve,” Hickey wrote countering criticisms.

Following the eviction and the brief blockade at Guilford Avenue, the group marched to City Hall and began discussing plans to possibly camp out in front of City Hall and demand a city representative meet with them.

“So, today is another example of evicting homeless individuals,” Flowers said. “No housing, no resources, no emergency supportive services, but they wanna push our homeless individuals into a institutional setting program, building somewhere where they used to house ex-prisoner and cons, whatever. This is not the setting for some of these traumatized, special circumstances homeless individuals.”

Flowers also announced press conference to address “the displacement of Guilford Ave. homeless” for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 30 at 2526 N. Charles St.

Additional reporting by Dharna Noor.

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