Homeless campuses not the answer for city . . .

October 28, 1998|By Robert V. Hess

RECENTLY, suggestions to move the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen and Health Care for the Homeless away from Baltimore's core business district have sparked interest in the creation of a "homeless campus" away from downtown.

The issue emerged just as the Maryland Food Committee and Action for the Homeless were merging to become the Center for Poverty Solutions or CPS. In response, the leaders of CPS decided to investigate homeless campuses and related programs to help Baltimore in choosing an effective approach to homelessness.

Over the summer, our staff visited such programs in nine cities, talking to more than 100 service providers. Also, we held two forums with service providers, consumers and government leaders.

The key thing we learned: Homeless campuses do not keep homeless people off the streets, and they do not address the root causes of homelessness: a lack of affordable housing and a lack of jobs paying living wages. Moreover, by providing shelter for as many as 900 people, many such campuses are intimidating and ill-suited to provide individualized services.

A better way

Instead of homeless campuses, Baltimore should consider some key elements of programs for the homeless that are successful in other cities, including form public/private partnerships, place comprehensive support services in proximity to low-income housing, create high-quality transitional housing and affordable permanent housing.

Here are our recommendations for Baltimore: develop small daytime resource centers that provide a variety of services; convert emergency shelters into short-term transitional housing; create more long-term transitional housing; and fund innovative permanent housing, such as Single Room Occupancy buildings or a Baltimore version of New York's Times Square Hotel, a downtown housing complex for homeless people, the elderly and students that offers a range of social services.

To improve employment opportunities, we propose creating the Baltimore Jobs Institute to provide necessary job skills to help needy people get living wage jobs. Also, an Urban Housing Corps could be established to train such people in the building trades while increasing the stock of affordable, quality homes. Similarly, a proposed Maryland Community Kitchen could offer job training in the food-service industry.

Of course, adequate funding must be in place to tackle such a challenging agenda. Currently, Baltimore provides $270,000 for homeless services compared with $4 million in Boston and $3 million in Montgomery County.

Increased local funding could help leverage other additional support. For example, Dallas used a $20 million local investment to leverage an additional $80 million, resulting in more than 7,000 new low-income housing units.

The city should also consider developing a dedicated funding source for homeless services. Dade County in Florida uses a special 1-percent sales tax on food and beverages sold in larger restaurants to generate $6 million annually for homeless services.

Helping the city

Our proposals are designed both to serve the homeless and to ensure the continued well-being of Baltimore as a place for residents, businesses and tourists.

Robert V. Hess is president and chief executive officer of the Center for Poverty Solutions.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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