Almost one-third of Baltimore's homeless suffer from addictions or mental illness, but the city can't help them because of a lack of funds and zoning restrictions, according to the Homeless Relief Advisory Board.
"The one thing I've learned is that [homelessness] is not just one single problem, it's a set of interlocking problems," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday, after the group's third annual report was released at the St. Ann's Church shelter in the 2200 block of Greenmount Ave.
On the street, those interlocking problems include housing costs and an array of medical and social problems. At the bureaucratic level, the report explains, the city finds itself in a bind because of money shortages and restrictive zoning.
Under under current law, shelters are restricted to four of Baltimore's 25 zoning districts and can be established only by City Council ordinance. But council members often are reluctant to introduce such ordinances. Last year, for example, no member would introduce an ordinance for a shelter proposed for the 1500 block of East North Ave.
The result, the advisory board says, is a policy that ends up violating the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, because it discriminates against people based on stereotypes.
In addition to advocating zoning law changes, the report recommends that the city immediately allocate $2 million for three programs: expanded emergency services for day and night shelters; more low-income housing, such as the two single-room-occupancy buildings opened over the past year; and services tailored to drug and alcohol abusers.
The board also suggested creating a bed registry, which would make it easier for hospitals and social workers to find shelter for the estimated 2,000 to 2,400 homeless people in Baltimore.
Asked how the city will persuade the cash-strapped state to supply more money, Schmoke said he hopes an intensive lobbying effort will convince legislators that homelessness is a statewide problem.