Help, don't arrest, homeless, sex workers

January 11, 2010

I am writing in response to Ed Norris' recent comments on the priority list that mayor-in-waiting Stephanie Rawlings-Blake should commit to (Jan. 10). I was appalled to see that of all of the criminal justice issues that plague this city, he chose to point a finger and suggest additional prosecution of some of the poorest and most disenfranchised people -- the homeless and sex workers. The fact that he had the nerve to label panhandling and prostitution as "quality of life" crimes demonstrates just how out of touch many people continue to be.

Those who would stand out on Light Street or MLK on a frigid January day do not do so to drive people away. It is a cry for help -- a cry that should truly be a priority of our incoming mayor. Furthermore, this commentary included yet another person pointing their finger at sex workers and blaming them for the ills of our society rather than considering what would put someone in a position where they would risk their lives on the streets everyday.

It is a fact that a large number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who are ejected from their homes feel they have no other option than to participate in survival sex. Our city's shelters and transitional homes are not only under-funded but are also largely segregated in rigid gender categories that do not meet the needs of transgender individuals. There is a dearth of beds available to young people who find themselves on the streets. Additionally, many members of the LGBT community are fired for no reason or forced into low wage positions that make it nearly impossible to get by.

Instead of focusing on punitive measures that simply address the symptoms, let's talk about the real problems, such as discrimination. Don't put another marginalized person in jail when we should be creating and maintaining job training, fully accessible public programs and affordable, equitable housing. Let's be a community that honors the dignity and respect of all people. Now, that is truly a quality of life issue.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of Equality Maryland.

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