Helping the homeless

December 19, 2007

In dealing with the homeless in two encampments near the Jones Falls Expressway recently, Baltimore officials got things right twice. First, they removed the homeless from the streets, because their shantytowns were becoming a potential fire hazard and stormy, freezing weather was predicted.

Second, those homeless people who could not or would not go to a shelter weren't arrested or harassed. They were taken to a hotel in Baltimore County, and almost as soon as they got there, city housing officials started qualifying them for affordable housing with support services. It's a positive response that deserves more widespread replication.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City quickly came up with 100 rental assistance vouchers for people who have been homeless for long periods of time. Social service workers, mostly from nonprofit groups, have pitched in and are helping to assess what services, including mental health counseling, are needed to enable each qualifying applicant to stay in an available housing unit.

Hotels are not likely to become the new mode of transitional housing, but the city has finally acted more aggressively on the need to look beyond emergency shelter to resolve the homeless problem. The service-oriented, housing-based approach increases the chances that the homeless will ultimately be able to stay off the streets.

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