The city presents a 10-year plan to address a chronic problem

End to homelessness

January 18, 2008|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Mayor Sheila Dixon unveiled yesterday a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, a goal she said the city is moving toward with the recent establishment of a large well-run winter shelter and by setting aside 100 housing vouchers for homeless adults and children.

Dixon described the plan, which was created by a committee of city business and social service leaders, as a "blueprint for a society where homelessness no longer exists." She said her resolve to improve conditions for the homeless was strengthened by time spent with families during a Wednesday night visit to the winter shelter.

"We have an issue and it is a very serious issue," she said, referring to the many children she encountered at the shelter, an old school in the 1600 block of Guilford Ave. that is regularly housing up to 368 people a night. "But now Baltimore has a plan."

The plan includes these goals:

Leasing 500 housing units to chronically homeless men, women and families.

Working with the state legislature and City Council to pass legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against renters who receive government subsidies such as food stamps, Social Security or housing vouchers.

Creation of an affordable housing trust that would help to encourage developers to build homes for poor residents, as well as the vigorous pursuit of drug treatment on demand.

The plan would require many millions of dollars to implement, most of which would come from state and federal sources. In the past five years, the city has received about $100 million in federal funds targeted at homelessness, said Philip F. Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, who attended the news conference. He said there is political will and financial backing to end homelessness.

"Your plan is realistic and doable," said Mangano, who has been beating the drum for years for states, cities and counties to create 10-year plans to end homelessness.

He has persuaded 325 jurisdictions to work to provide shelter for the needy.

And, Mangano said, the effort is paying off. Last year marked the first time in nearly two decades that there was a slight reduction in street homelessness across the nation.

"With this plan we can now look people in the eye and tell them, housing is on the way, solutions are on the way, that the long history of homelessness is over," Mangano said.

3,000 a night

On any given night, Baltimore has about 3,000 chronically homeless people sleeping on streets, in shelters, cars or other locations not meant for overnight lodging, according to a 2007 homeless census.

To address the needs of these people, the homeless plan covers four major areas: housing, health care, prevention and emergency services. Advocates concerned about homelessness say the most exciting aspect of the plan is the expansion of the city's Housing First program to 500 units.

The program was started about two years ago and has successfully housed about 40 people, according to city officials.

The dropout rate for the program is very low and those who are enrolled in the program are getting the medical care they need to stay engaged in their families' lives, as well as school and work.

Recently, city officials moved 20 formerly homeless people into housing after they cleared several homeless encampments under the Jones Falls Expressway.

Although some of the people from those camps are still staying in a hotel, they will be moved into permanent housing as soon as possible.

Diane Glauber, the city's head of Homeless Services, said the effort dovetails with the 10-year plan, which calls for the creation of housing for a total of 100 homeless individuals and families by 2009.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has pledged to provide vouchers to accomplish the goal.

Other first-year goals include the creation of more life-skills and job training courses for homeless individuals, and the establishment of a work-force development team that would help homelss people find jobs.

24-hour shelter

The city also wants to build a 24-hour shelter for the homeless that would be open all year, not just in the winter months. Dixon said the state budget could include $2 million to begin planning for the shelter.

Dixon said she made a promise to some of the homeless men she met at the winter shelter.

"I told them, `We want to find ways to provide support to you so you can contribute back to the society and go back to your families,'" she said.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

Baltimore's 10-year plan to end homelessness is available at www.baltimorecity.gov.

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