John Hamilton’s main concern March 12 was not the opportunity for a warm bed or a hot meal. The recovering heroin addict’s major concern was that if he joined the other 12 homeless people who moved into the Belvedere Homes housing facility from Camp 83, an encampment for homeless people under the Jones Falls Expressway, his friend’s belongings–which he had promised to watch–would go missing.
“I’m going tonight, but I don’t want to leave my friend and he loses his belongings,” said Hamilton, 53, as he puffed cigarette smoke into the frigid early evening spring air.
Earlier in the day, Hamilton, who has been living under the freeway for six months, and other homeless people showed panic, confusion and more than a little rage when workers from Baltimore’s Department of Public Works went to The Fallsway and Hillen Street and began tossing unattended bags of personal effects into a green dump truck for disposal.
One worker from the Department of Public Works said his directions were clear: “I got a call from my boss and he said ‘If they aren’t on it, take it.’”
But the city trash collectors and street sweepers were confronted by a phalanx of homeless people and advocates of the disenfranchised, including workers from the non-profit group Health Care for the Homeless, who challenged the mid-afternoon eviction.
The scene is becoming common on the urban landscape: homeless men and women are displaced to make way for a project where organizers would rather not have old bedding and boxes lying about–in this case, Baltimore Farmers’ Market.
A public works staffer said that afternoon, the trash generated by the homeless is becoming an eye sore.
The action came less than a week after residents from Camp 83, another open-air cluster of about 15 homeless people, were evicted from their encampment of tents and makeshift shelters just three blocks away.
City workers, some manning Bobcats and other small scale earth-moving machines scoured the mini-city, destroying what was left of the resident’s clothes, suitcases and tents that weren’t removed during the eviction. Residents of the encampment, whose ages ranged from 30 to their late 60s, had been living there as long as four years in some cases.
Hamilton, along with two other people, is the last of the residents from Camp 83 who were still without shelter. The three were not present when Belvedere Homes, an independently funded non-profit housing facility, collected the other 12 residents March 6 and 7.
Christina Flowers, president of Belvedere Homes, has been running the facility since 2005 and has been actively involved with Baltimore’s efforts to end homelessness with a 10-year-plan, the Journey Home.
The plan, which is currently being revised, has four goals to end homelessness: affordable housing, comprehensive healthcare, sufficient incomes and comprehensive preventive and emergency services.
More than 3,200 residents sleep on the street each night in Baltimore, 80 percent of them African American, according to the Journey Home, the city’s plan for handling homeless people.
Rachel Kutler, 24, an advocate with Housing our Neighbors, which formed in November 2012, said she is skeptical about the latest round of revisions to the plan which relieves the city from a measurable time line to implement each phase of the project.
“The downtown Hilton was just funded with $1 million from the city,” Kutler said of city’s efforts to financially aid the failing downtown Hilton. “We’ve got the resources and the vacant houses. Maryland is supposed to be the richest state in the country.”
Flowers said she agrees that the city is not properly handling its local homeless population.
“[City councilwoman] Mary Pat Clarke said put [the homeless people] in a hotel and the mayor shut them down and said it was a waste of money,” said Flowers. “But we have casinos and race cars. Someone should have asked if we rather get funding for the homeless rather than the Grand Prix.”
At a recent meeting for Baltimore Housing for All, a grassroots campaign of people who have experienced homelessness, there was a discussion of the next steps for the former residents of Camp 83.
“The media has been painting [the removal] as a success, but people are going to be out on the street again,” said one man. The meeting was held inside of the Health Care for the Homeless building.
Flowers said she is spending her own money to house the residents of Camp 83. She said there is no deadline for their stay. She is actively trying to get them settled.
“The shelter ain’t no place to call home… If I have to set the example for everything that is going on around Baltimore City, I will. We have limited resources, but we’re trying,” she said.