Baltimore officials arranged overnight accommodations for the overflow of city homeless last night as the temperature dipped near the freezing mark and shelters began to fill.
Joanne Selinske, director of the Mayor's Office on Homeless Services, said today that an Urban Services Center in the 1500 block of E. North Ave. was opened last night for people turned away from the city's 42 other shelters.
"We had light refreshments for them and will have something heartier beginning tonight," she said.
A special Mass Transit Administration bus, staffed by city workers, picked up homeless people and took them to various locations around the city, she said.
The temperature was 34 degrees at 6 a.m. in the city and the upper 20s in the suburbs, according to the National Weather Service.
After some advocates for the homeless questioned the lack of a city homeless plan two weeks into November, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he was willing to open a city building for extra shelter for the city's 2,400 people who are homeless each night.
"Because the beds weren't up and running [at all the shelters]," Selinske said, the city had to open the Urban Services building.
Selinske said city buildings are opened to back up shelters when temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and when freezing rain, snow, ice or gusty winds increase the wind-chill hazard.
This would be the third winter the city has provided its "no turnaway" policy for the homeless, by increasing the number of available emergency beds, she said.
Last year, the city's homeless plan went into effect on Nov. 9, Selinske said. Recently, the city had been criticized for delaying implementing this winter's plan.
"People have a misimpression that the [winter] plan is all city government services," Selinske said. "In fact, the plan is an array of services provided by a number of agencies that are coordinated by the city."
The special MTA bus, also part of the plan, was originally scheduled for Nov. 19, she said. Next Monday, the Salvation Army will staff the bus, she added.
Other parts of the plan also are to take effect Monday as several city shelters open their expanded space for the winter. On Dec. 1, additional shelters will be opened.
Selinske said the American Rescue Workers, a year-round shelter, on Nov. 1 began providing 17 extra beds for the winter.
The city provides nearly $6 million a year for homeless programs and services from city, state and federal funds, Selinske said.
Selinske said 44 citywide shelters provide 1,250 beds for people in emergency and transitional cases. Some churches also unofficially serve as shelters.
As an example of its preparation, the city plans to distribute thousands of "street cards" to the homeless so they'll be aware of shelters, she said. The cards will have names and locations.
Yesterday afternoon, members of City Advocates Serving the Homeless (CASH) met with 10 City Council members, including Council President Mary Pat Clarke, to discuss shelter for the homeless.
CASH members got pledges of support from council members to push for some solution to what the advocates say is a lack of beds and shelters. The participants decided to meet again Friday to begin work on setting up a summit on the homeless situation.
Clarke said she hopes such a summit will find ways to increase the number of beds despite the city's fiscal problems and to improve neighborhood acceptance of homeless shelters.