Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 18, 2007

Stemming the tide of homelessness

Here's the top question we at Health Care for the Homeless have been asked all summer: Is it just me, or are there more homeless people on the streets downtown?

It isn't just you. We see it too, and have noticed a corresponding increase in phone calls and messages from community leaders concerned about people living on park benches, in doorways and along the Jones Falls Expressway ("Homeless booted from city site," Aug. 16).

The Sun's editorial "Housing needs" (Aug. 10) identifies the housing market engines propelling this visible increase in homelessness, including an appalling shortage of affordable housing, the doubling of housing prices in the private market and lethargy on the federal level in passing an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to assist cash-strapped communities such as Baltimore.

Another engine is the erosion of emergency shelter resources.

According to a report from the state's Department of Human Resources, in fiscal year 2006 Baltimore lost 3,167 bed-nights and had more than 11,000 "turnaways" as a result of insufficient shelter space.

And the city has lost nearly 400 shelter beds a night this summer with the summer closure of the city's winter shelter and the shutdown of the Greenmount Avenue facility formerly operated by I Can Inc.

The result is that more people are spending more time on the street.

The pending loss of the YWCA's 73-bed shelter program for women means the situation might get even worse ("United Way agrees to pact," Aug. 9).

But how can we make the situation better?

The Sun is right in calling both for federal assistance and "a more comprehensive and coherent" housing plan here at home. The creation of additional emergency shelter space would be one important interim step.

And state action to expand Medicaid eligibility for low-income parents and single adults ("O'Malley favors Medicaid growth," Aug. 12) would give more people the care they need to avoid the merciless cycle of job loss, eviction and homelessness.

Kevin Lindamood

Baltimore

The writer is vice president for external affairs for Health Care for the Homeless Inc.

Reviewing options for city tax relief

Keith Losoya's column "Property taxes make Baltimore intolerable" (Opinion

Commentary, Aug. 9) is an impassioned plea for giving overburdened city taxpayers some relief - in the hope that this will help attract more homebuyers to the city and thus increase the city's tax base and help secure the future social and economic health of Baltimore.

As a city taxpayer and the executive officer of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, I wholeheartedly endorse his sentiments.

The city is overly dependent on the property tax as its primary source of revenue.

And that is why I was pleased that Mayor Sheila Dixon, shortly after taking office, took the initiative to appoint the Blue Ribbon Committee on Taxes and Fees to examine the city's tax structure and make recommendations aimed at reducing the high city property tax rate.

The panel, which I am privileged to co-chair, has been meeting biweekly since April 1, analyzing and discussing specific methods for reducing the high property tax rate and looking at various alternative approaches to meeting the city's revenue needs.

Citizens interested in this issue can review the many documents and background data under review by the tax panel by going to the city's Web site.

The tax panel will be finalizing its recommendations and issuing a comprehensive report to the mayor and City Council by mid- to late-September.

Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III

Baltimore

Slots would only add to woes of city poor

"Unconscionable." That's the word that keeps coming to mind every time I hear an elected official speak in favor of slots ("Report makes case for Md. slots," Aug. 15). Unconscionable.

Where there are slots, there are, of course, gamblers. And where there are gamblers, there are individuals whose disease of addiction manifests itself at slot machines, over and over and over again.

Gamblers who are addicted to gambling don't care whether they win or lose. They don't care whose money they gamble away or what the consequences may be.

They must gamble, just as surely as a heroin addict must shoot dope into his or her veins, no matter what the risk.

So gambling addicts lose their pocket money one night then, over time, they lose their savings, their spouse's savings, their children's savings, their home, their car, their job and their worldly possessions.

They steal from everyone they know and from those they don't know to get the money it takes to gamble.

It isn't logical, it isn't reasonable and there is no justification for that behavior.

But, just like cancer, addiction is a disease.

Slots, you say? In a city with one of the highest rates of addiction in the country?

And at Pimlico race course in Park Heights, to be specific, in an area where drug addiction continues to ruin lives, ruin entire families, ruin children's futures and ruin whole blocks?

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