City's misguided approach to Camp 83

March 11, 2013

Baltimore City may be five years into its Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness (aka "The Journey Home"), but the tragically prejudicial comments from city representatives regarding the individuals experiencing homelessness who were residing at "Camp 83" set back decades both the city's progress on the persistent issue of homelessness and their credibility on understanding homelessness ("City clears homeless camp; protesters push for permanent solution," March 8).

To insinuate that individuals at Camp 83 aren't staying at emergency shelters because they "can't bring booze into the shelter" is offensive and destructively misguided and fails to take into account that most individuals do not stay at emergency shelters because they do not feel safe, because their belongings have great potential to be stolen, because they have been traumatized by the behaviors of staff and other clients, and because they are unable to wait in line for hours during the day to be granted a bed in the shelter — particularly the working poor who lack housing and are at their jobs in the afternoon.

Perhaps even worse is the notion that razing the encampment is needed "to push the homeless there to get their lives back on track." Homelessness is primarily caused by deliberate social and economic policy decisions made over the past 30 years that have increased the number of people living in or near poverty, decreased the supply of affordable housing, and undermined people's ability to meet life's basic necessities. Scattering the residents at Camp 83 to other alleyways, corners and abandoned buildings in Baltimore will not "get their lives back on track."

If Baltimore wants to take constructive and meaningful action to address homelessness — particularly in light of the commitment inherent in its Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness — it must invest in permanent, affordable housing. Employment as well as engagement in medical, mental health and addiction treatment are all possible — and increasingly effective — after someone has secured stable housing. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stated that temporarily providing motel placements while permanent housing is identified and secured would "not be a responsible use of taxpayer money" while simultaneously — and ironically — providing $1 million to bail out the failing Hilton Hotel. The combination of these two stories would be more appropriately found in the pages of The Onion than The Sun.

If Baltimore has the financial wherewithal to meet the needs of a struggling luxury hotel for the city's most affluent visitors, surely it can find the decency and compassion to meet the needs of some of its most vulnerable residents. The city should utilize effective solutions to address the needs of vulnerable Baltimoreans instead of flagrantly relying on dated stereotypes to disband homeless encampment communities that currently have nowhere else to go and ultimately undermining efforts to end homelessness in Baltimore.

Lisa Klingenmaier, Baltimore

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