Making homelessness a crime won't create a more liveable...


November 02, 1999

Making homelessness a crime won't create a more liveable city

The Sun has reported that the Downtown Partnership is proposing a plan to revitalize downtown Baltimore ("Proposal seeks to revitalize the city," Oct. 26).

Health Care for the Homeless has served this area for 15 years and we are very concerned by the article's reference to legislation that would make "it illegal to sleep or camp outdoors at night in the downtown area."

This would be a step backward.

Excluding the two religious missions, the city has only 400 emergency shelter beds to serve its several thousand citizens who each night have nowhere to sleep.

Many of these individuals have mental illnesses and physical disabilities that prevent them from using existing shelters.

Criminalizing these individuals, because of the system's inadequacies, would be ineffective and inefficient. It would also contradict our basic commitment to fairness.

The Baltimore City Task Force on Homelessness -- which includes the Downtown Partnership, as well as the Greater Baltimore Committee, Associated Catholic Charities, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) -- is working to devise effective solutions to homelessness.

Arresting people who have nowhere to sleep is not such a solution.

Jeff Singer, Baltimore

The writer is president and chief executive officer of Health Care for the Homeless Inc.

I was distressed by The Sun's article "Proposal seeks to revitalize the city" (Oct. 26). While Baltimore's economic health is important, it's troubling that the Downtown Partnership (DTP) defines the city's needs so narrowly.

Particularly shocking was the suggestion that we criminalize homelessness by making sleeping outside illegal. People are homeless for many reasons, but the common denominator is their inability to afford housing.

How can we ignore this vast army of poor Baltimoreans? Creating new parks and new antique streetlamps will only illuminate their presence.

Anti-panhandling legislation will only exacerbate the tensions between those with cash and those without it. More surveillance cameras will only capture on tape the drama of the city's focus on business needs instead of human needs.

The solutions, while never simple, involve devoting as much time, energy and passion to solving poverty as we have to sidestepping it. A few suggestions:

Require 10 percent of all new apartments to be set aside for the disabled and for low-income families; that would amount to 100 units of the 1,000 the DTP has proposed.

Encourage construction firms working on downtown development to hire city residents.

Put resources into creating addiction treatment on demand for Baltimore's thousands of uninsured addicts and alcoholics, as well as halfway houses and other safe residences where they can recover.

No one wants to live in a city with a slick downtown ringed by desperate poverty.

Lauren Siegel, Baltimore

Schwartz will be an asset to O'Malley and the city

Regarding The Sun's article about Democratic mayoral nominee Martin O'Malley's choice of the Downtown Partnership's Laurie Schwartz to coordinate his transition team, I fail to see why there would be any controversy at all ("Mayoral hopeful picks 2 for team," Oct. 1).

Ms. Schwartz has proved to be a capable leader, showing sensitivity to business and community concerns during the administrations of Mayors Kurt L. Schmoke and William Donald Schaefer.

She can only be an asset to Mr. O'Malley as he chooses his cabinet -- as well as to those who recognize that difficult deliberations on the city's future will need to begin quickly after the inauguration.

Gary Frahm, Baltimore

In presidential year, city issues would be overlooked

The proposal to hold elections for city officials in the same year as presidential elections is idiotic ("Voters should reject city election change," editorial, Oct. 27).

Who will pay attention to local matters in the midst of a national election?

Could it be that local political machine leaders know they can get their loyalists to turn out and vote the machine line while other voters are concentrating on national matters?

Harry E. Bennett Jr., Baltimore

If laws could abolish guns, why do we still have crime?

I take issue with Morris Grossman's assertion that "when the day finally arrives when criminals can't get guns, because of laws preventing their sale and ownership, that will be the end of these senseless shootings" ("When guns are banned, the violence will stop," letters, Oct. 25).

If only it were so simple. If passing laws would do the trick, why do we still have criminals?

Aren't their activities already against the law?

Mel Barnhart, Randallstown

Calling off `war on drugs' would stem the violence

In his proposal to ban private ownership of handguns, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. said, "For those who oppose this, I challenge them to have a better idea to save 35,000 lives."

I don't oppose Mr. Curran's suggestion. But, if a supporter may be permitted a better idea, I have one.

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