Homeless protest at city agency

Students join event to put focus on lack of affordable housing

August 23, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

Horn blasts from passing motorists were few, but a group of homeless people and advocates for them received some high-profile attention yesterday as they protested the lack of affordable housing outside the city housing department.

Reginald U. Scriber, deputy commissioner for community services for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, invited the group to a private, impromptu 20-minute meeting in his office, homeless advocates said. Scriber confirmed the meeting.

The protesters - who held signs that read, "End Homelessness Now" - had been assembled outside housing's headquarters in the 400 block of E. Fayette St.

Scriber "was coming in and invited us all in for a meeting, homeless people included," said Dan Andersen, a member of Project Jump Start, an advocacy group for the homeless at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. "He assured us that they were doing everything they could."

The protest was held in response to last week's actions by the Downtown Partnership, a group representing businesses, which sent workers to clean up cardboard boxes, trash and belongings of homeless people who sleep under the Jones Falls Expressway over Guilford Avenue.

Partnership officials said they intended only to clean the area, but advocates accused the organization of trying to force the homeless to move.

These actions prompted students from Jump Start and Loyola College to participate in a sleep-in Tuesday night, joining a group of homeless who have recently been living along Guilford Avenue. Six of the advocates spent the night alongside the homeless and brought water, toiletries and sandwiches, and provided coffee and doughnuts in the morning.

They concluded the sleep-in with the demonstration.

According to Andersen, Scriber took the names of the homeless people he met with, said he would work on getting them housing and promised a subsequent meeting for follow-up.

Melvin Sizemore, 46, who has been homeless since May, said he appreciated the advocates' support Tuesday night but wants action.

"When I'm on the bus, I go by whole neighborhoods that are boarded up," Sizemore said. "These places aren't that old. What's it going to take to bring them up to code? A new circuit-breaker? [The city has] got the money. The money's allotted to help the homeless. ... Why can't somebody do the paperwork and get people in those units?"

After the meeting with Scriber, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the city's health commissioner, also addressed the group in a sidewalk chat.

"It's good that there's people in Baltimore that are that concerned about the homeless, and I think it's going to propel forward the things we're working on [to help the homeless] in the city now," Sharfstein said.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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Related coverage at baltimoresun.com/homeless

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