Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is offering to turn a city building over to a group of homeless advocates to run as a shelter, an idea aimed at relieving a burgeoning problem at minimal cost to the financially ailing city.
Speaking at a ribbon-cutting for a homeless shelter in South Baltimore, Schmoke said last week that he will meet in the coming days with officials of the Baltimore Homeless Union to flesh out his offer. The offer came in response to proposals made to the city by the union, which lobbies for the homeless.
"This would be a start," Schmoke said. "It obviously doesn't take care of the entire need."
The mayor said that he has several possible sites in mind for the shelter -- which he envisions as being operated only during the winter -- but said he won't disclose them until after next week's meeting.
The offer of the new shelter was met with cautious optimism by officials with the homeless union and other advocates.
"This was pretty unexpected," said Bernard Brown, a member of the Baltimore Homeless Union's board. "We have been in negotiation for quite a while with the city government for us to have a city-owned building. It sounds pretty good. It is something we would have the resources to make use of."
Norma Pinette, executive director of Action for the Homeless, said, "I guess I feel not very fully informed. But the details of this are going to be very important. If it is not staffed by city employees, there would need to be some funds to hire people to run it."
On any given night, there are 2,500 homeless people in Baltimore. While the problem persists all year, it becomes more critical during the winter. In past years, the city has opened city buildings, including mayor's stations and Urban Services centers, to deal with housing emergencies during severely cold weather.
But those actions cost the city substantial sums. And, Schmoke says, with the city having to pare $26 million in spending because of state budget reductions, he would try to hold down those kinds of expenses.