City gets aid for homeless at transit stops

October 07, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Near the Metro station opposite the Lexington Market, a woman who is waiting for the bus avoids the stare of a disheveled man, who approaches with his palm outstretched. "Ma'am, I don't want it for wine, I just want to get a sandwich."

The woman fumbles with her purse and gives the man a dollar, but then she quickly flags a taxi. When the bus finally arrives, she is long gone.

Concerned that similar confrontations might dissuade Baltimoreans from using mass transit, the U.S. Transportation Department has awarded the city a three-year, $600,000 grant to help cope with the increasing number of homeless people who loiter around bus stops and subway entrances near the intersection of Lexington and Howard streets, one of the city's busiest transportation hubs.

The mayor's Office of Homeless Services will oversee a program creating an outreach team of four full-time social workers and a benefits worker. The workers will help homeless people loitering there get social services that might help them return to a stable life. The city plans to hire the workers by the end of the year.

New York and San Francisco won similar grants, which combine money from several federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, which administers food stamps, and Health and Human Services, which manages the nation's welfare programs.

Even though Baltimore was awarded a grant, the city's buses and subways do not attract large numbers of homeless people. Police officers with the state Mass Transit Administration, which operates public buses and subways in Baltimore, say homeless people do not frequent the city's subway platforms or seek shelter by endlessly riding the system's buses and trains.

"We might have two or three people who we might spot regularly, but it's not a significant problem," at the Howard-Lexington complex, said Cpl. Jerome Spann, a security supervisor there.

But city and federal officials say the grant is targeted at homeless people who often beg for money nearby, drawn by the steady flow of spare change brought by commuters and people arriving to shop at the Lexington Market and nearby stores.

Because Washington is concerned about the effect that homeless people loitering near transit facilities could have on ridership and because Baltimore officials are strapped for resources to provide for the estimated 2,000 to 2,400 homeless people living in the city, officials with both governments say the grant will be money well spent.

"If you talk to the people in New York, you find out they spend a lot of money on maintenance and security," said Robert A. Knisely, an aide to Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner.

"You've got to walk by toilets that don't work, you've got to walk by people who aren't in control of themselves. A person doesn't have to be a rider to adversely affect ridership."

In New York City, scores of homeless people converge at the terminals of the Staten Island Ferry, urinating in public, ranting at imagined antagonists or demanding quarters from commuters. In San Francisco, the TransBay Terminal, which serves interstate buses and trains, also has become a magnet for drifters from up and down the West Coast.

Things are not quite as bad in Baltimore.

Joanne Salinsky, director of the city's office of homeless services, said although the grant is to be used specifically for the Howard-Lexington street area, it will help Baltimore achieve the broader goal of helping homeless people citywide.

"They are two separate agendas, but they clearly overlap," Ms. Salinsky said. "We're very excited about this."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.