City kept its promises on homeless shelter

HAVING YOUR SAY

July 31, 2008|By Abu Moulta Ali

If you were told by the city that a homeless shelter was planned for your neighborhood, you would probably react the way our neighborhood did and organize, or the way Butchers Hill and the communities around Edmondson-Westside High School are reacting, with concerns and a lot of questions for the city.

Last winter, Greenmount West hosted a 300-bed "code blue" winter homeless shelter. We are a small community of 500 families in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. The New Greenmount West Community Association held community-wide meetings and created a list of commitments residents wanted from the city regarding the operation of the shelter. As one resident put it: "Moving 300 individuals and families into School 32 on a 24/7 basis will increase the neighborhood population by 25 percent."

Residents were concerned that not enough services would be provided to help the homeless out of their situations. In effect, the city would be merely warehousing its homeless people instead of providing them with a long-term solution. And then there were fears of increased crime, trash and loitering. Our early protest signs read, "Homes not shelter."

Working with Mayor Sheila Dixon and her staff, the New Greenmount West Community Association negotiated a signed agreement that outlined solutions and commitments the city would implement to address most of the community's concerns.

Although there were bumps along the way, the city kept its commitments to Greenmount West. We were pleased to see that the shelter really was temporary and did close on March 31. Our community received increased police presence and monitoring with frequent reports to the community - and statistics showed that serious crime went down during the time the shelter was in Greenmount West.

We received reports from the shelter about its operation and found it offered many services to help the homeless. Another commitment kept.

The most unexpected and positive benefit from having the shelter in our neighborhood was that it attracted a new tenant to School 32 - the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School. The city spent nearly $700,000 in renovations to make the once-abandoned school habitable for the shelter residents. These improvements lessened the financial costs for rehabilitation of the school, and turned the building into a stable property and a beacon of hope, the first of many steps to revitalizing our community.

As impressed as we were that the city kept its word, we were amazed to hear that Mayor Dixon had made several unpublicized visits to check on the welfare of the shelter guests.

The homeless situation in Baltimore is a real concern. The New Greenmount West Community Association wants to honor our "Homes not Shelter" slogan by continuing to work with the city to restore some of the abandoned city-owned houses in our neighborhood for homeless and low-income people.

In the past, the city has not enjoyed a good deal of trust from neighborhoods, including Greenmount West. But our recent experience with the city and the temporary "code blue" has renewed our faith that community voices are heard and city agreements kept.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Abu Moulta Ali is president of the New Greenmount West Community Association. His e-mail is amoultaa@yahoo.com

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