Report on homelessness brings call for council hearing

Task force says partnership is needed to coordinate services

September 23, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

A report on homelessness released this week says Baltimore shelters turn someone away 20,000 times a year, and members of the task force that studied the issue are calling for a City Council hearing on the problem.

The report was produced over a five-month period by the Baltimore City Task Force on Homelessness, a coalition of government agencies, religious organizations, businesses, universities, unions and social service groups formed by former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke shortly before he left office last year.

The report found that nearly 3,000 people are homeless each night in Baltimore and that more than 17,000 stay in a homeless shelter at some point each year.

The report was presented Wednesday in a packed conference room at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Baltimore. Public officials, ministers and advocates for the poor called the task force's work a step toward ensuring adequate shelter for more of the city's disadvantaged.

"I really never thought I'd see this day, the day people really got together to do something about hunger and homelessness," said City Councilwoman Bea Gaddy, a longtime champion of the poor who herself was once homeless.

The task force, headed by George Collins, former president and chief executive officer of T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., came up with a variety of prescriptions for Baltimore's homelessness problem. One of the main recommendations is the formation of a "public/private partnership" to coordinate services available to the poor.

"Neither the government nor the private sector can hope to end homelessness on its own," said the Rev. Russell Groves of Canaan Baptist Church.

The report calls for six "day resource centers," where the homeless can find food, health care, restrooms and other basic services, and for 700 new units of affordable housing each year. The task force, according to the report, "focused on recommendations that are feasible to implement within three years."

The report recommends increases in federal, state and city funding of programs directed at combating homelessness. It says city general-fund revenue dedicated to the homeless has dropped from $1.8 million in 1993 to less than $50,000 in 2000.

Many at the meeting embraced the proposal for a City Council hearing. "I don't see how we can't put that together sometime in this session," said Peter Dolkart, director of legislative affairs for City Council President Sheila Dixon.

Dolkart said, however, that he and other council officials dispute the task force's data on the city's funding levels. He said it does not seem to take into account state and federal grant money that is disbursed by City Hall.

"The city might be spending more money on hunger and homelessness than in the past," Dolkart said.

Among the themes of the meeting Wednesday was the opportunity presented by what the report refers to as "rising state and federal budget surpluses and the thriving economy." One suggestion raised at Bethel AME was to draw money for homelessness programs from Maryland's tobacco settlement funds.

The idea for the task force emerged from the debate over the proposed relocation of Our Daily Bread, a popular soup kitchen located in a part of downtown that had been considered for commercial redevelopment.

In the wake of this dispute, the local advocacy group Center for Poverty Solutions recommended a regional panel similar to one operating in Miami.

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