Homeless leave JFX for hotel

City to house up to 30 in Woodlawn for month

December 15, 2007|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Baltimore officials moved 17 homeless people from their makeshift encampment beneath the Jones Falls Expressway to a Baltimore County hotel yesterday, vowing to help them find permanent places to live.

The relocation comes a day after city officials ordered people to leave the shantytown, warning of frigid temperatures and saying their improvised shelters were fire hazards.

Yesterday afternoon, officials destroyed the shelters - constructed with fraying tarps, old blankets, tents and plywood - hauling large pieces into sanitation trucks.

Residents were told to gather their belongings in large plastic bins, which will be placed in storage at one of the city's shelters.

The city is prepared to house up to 30 homeless people from the shantytown at the Quality Inn in Woodlawn for a month, said Reginald U. Scriber, deputy commissioner of community services for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. But city agencies hope to find permanent housing for the residents, perhaps through Section 8 housing vouchers, if applicants qualify, Scriber said.

Making available vouchers would also require approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city's housing authority board, which plans to meet Monday, Scriber said.

The move had been planned for today, but the city decided to act quickly because of a storm expected this weekend.

"With the snow coming to us in the next day or two, the mayor pressed us to move quickly," Scriber said.

"These were very serious fire hazards," said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman. "We've heard of cases where homeless people have died in such unsafe conditions."

The push to relocate the homeless came a week after the city opened its winter shelter and days after an article and editorial in The Sun revealed conditions of the shantytown and the city's dwindling number of shelter beds. Four shelters have shut down in recent months, leaving Baltimore with about 300 fewer beds than last year at this time.

Under the JFX yesterday, the homeless and their advocates said they were pleased with the city's arrangement.

"We are very excited the housing authority is going to provide vouchers," said Adam Schneider, an outreach worker at Health Care for the Homeless, who spent yesterday afternoon helping homeless people pack up their belongings. "We will be working with the city to get them the support services they need."

Arthur Epps, 35, who for the past two months has been living in a makeshift shelter made from two couches and plywood, said he was thankful the city did not evict the residents without providing an alternative.

"I think this is an opportunity for me to get on my feet and take care of my business," said Epps, who said he moved to Baltimore from Chicago in August for a job that never panned out.

But James Williams, 54, who has been homeless for seven years, said that while he was thankful for the opportunity, he was frustrated about the way the city handled the move.

"They think we build stuff like those tents there to do drugs," he said. "They just build that to stay warm. They're just decent people trying to live their life."

Williams, a Baltimore native, said he joined the encampment three weeks ago after sleeping in front of a camera shop at Charles and Baltimore streets. He preferred the community beneath the JFX to shelters after hearing horror stories about turf battles and fights.

"I never wanted to be in the shelter; people just don't know how to act," he said. "They always fighting each other. I think it's wrong to put a bunch of people together who don't want to be together."

Still, he hopes moving to a hotel could lead to something better.

"I just want to have a chance to be happy like everybody else."

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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