A city tradition and homelessness collide Farmers' market: Influx of vagrants living beneath expressway creates unsanitary situation.

August 14, 1998

FOR THE past two decades, the Baltimore Farmers' Market has been a delightful summer tradition. It draws thousands of shoppers on Sundays to a desolate parking area beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, a block from City Hall. "You can shop, eat breakfast, see people," is how one regular explains the market's appeal.

In recent weeks, however, an unsanitary situation has developed that could threaten the market's viability.

Although homeless people have long been a presence under the elevated expressway, their numbers have increased noticeably. Instead of just a couple of vagrants, a dozen or so were there yesterday morning, for example, occupying makeshift cardboard shelters on two parking lots between Saratoga and Centre streets.

They urinate and defecate in nearby bushes, creating a vermin problem and a stench that is overpowering in summer heat. The parking lots look trashier than ever, strewn with discarded plastic bottles and food wrappers.

The situation has gotten out of hand. City authorities, from sanitation workers to the health department, need to get their act together. The parking lots used by the farmers' market, and the surrounding landscaping, need a thorough cleaning. Social agencies must take action and see that the needs of the homeless are met.

The conditions beneath the JFX reflect society's failure to cope with problems of homelessness, poverty and mental illness. That, however, does not absolve city officials. By tolerating filth near a food handling area, they have created a situation that is potentially hazardous to thousands more Baltimoreans.

The Baltimore Farmers' Market brings together growers, bakers and chefs from 10 Maryland counties, Baltimore City and Pennsylvania. Many vendors of fresh fruit, produce, seafood, herbs, cheeses, smoked meats and jellies have been participating since it began in the late 1970s and have developed a loyal following. This is a tradition that many city dwellers cherish. It needs to be safeguarded.

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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