The 10 day occupation of War Memorial Park by advocates for the city’s homeless population ended Aug. 23.
The community of red tents filling the park in the shadow of City Hall has been dismantled, leaving dozens of scar-like patches of dead grass across the lawn and lingering questions about the city’s policies crafted for people experiencing homelessness.
Homeless Tents in front of City Hall. (Screengrab from news video)
The residents of the makeshift tent city numbered approximately 50 throughout the duration, but adding the growing number of campers ringing the park brought the headcount to over 100. The demonstrators were but a small fraction of the 2,669 homeless person in Baltimore counted in January of this year.
Beyond the tents, other amenities were established. Food, toiletries and hygiene products were being distributed from a central commissary-like location. A medical tent was staffed by resident Tavian White, 30, trained in CPR and automated external defibrillation. He was supported by representatives of Team Den Mother in the provision of first aid. The city itself provided portable latrines on Aug. 21.
During the last three days of the occupation, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh personally visited the encampment with increasing frequency, occasionally even descending the steps to visit with the residents one-on-one. The priority that morning was accommodating the two families with infants.
Requests by the AFRO to observe the Mayor’s Office’s Monday meetings with activists Kenneth Gwee, an organizer and leader of Baltimore’s chapter of the revived Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Rufus Howard, resident advocate, were denied.
On Aug. 23, a draft copy of a proposal between the city and the residents was read to residents of Tent City by Nate Fields of Downtown Partnership.
As of Aug. 23, the city’s proposal was unsigned and seemingly unenforceable according to some residents and activists. A copy of the draft was not made available to the AFRO for review from either the city or the activists.
Nevertheless, the proposal came with a firm deadline. The mayor’s office made it clear to residents throughout the occupation that the occupier’s actions were illegal, and the understanding was the agreement would be rendered void if residents, as a whole, did not disperse.
Carl Banks, a resident and student at the University of Maryland, began circulating a petition, taking names of residents that wished to remain at the park. Banks was certain that the residents were giving up vital leverage.
Wayne AmonRa, a homeless advocate, took to a loudspeaker to discourage this.
“Don’t sign up with the propagandists if you don’t got plans on sitting in jail tonight,” AmonRa said. “I’m just being brutally honest. We’re doing as much as we can to keep you all free. When we had plans on going to jail, we had college students that was fitting to go to jail for you all. There was folks from Morgan, folks from Towson, so if they tried to lock you all up, they’d pack the jails. We’re not fitting to put you all in jail cells.. that’s what the police been doing.”
He added, “You all want your own house? Tent City house? One mind. One Heart. One family. Let’s go home.”
There was zero police presence that afternoon and evening. The camp was taken down by its own residents.
Whatever the new location is called, its open floor plan and 50 olive cots give it all the features of a barracks. It is a shelter.
Residents were universal in their dissatisfaction in the quality of life at Baltimore’s shelters. Code Blue, Catholic Charities and the Weinberg Group were universally bemoaned as incompatible with the lives and realities of Tent City’s residents.
“They will cart you to Douglas, Chase, Chester, they have like six places that they cart you to all over the city,” said Lynette Brown, a resident of Tent City and holder of ticket No. 8, which would put her on the first bus to Upton. “You sleep, they get you up at 5 o’clock and they haul you back to My Sister’s Place to have your breakfast and shower, and at 72 years old, it’s too much for me to experience.”
Despite her previous experiences, Brown said she’s curious how the new arrangement will work. Especially with the assurance that the new location will be administered by Tent City’s residents.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s an overflow shelter, whether it’s Pinderhughes building, whether it’s an old school and it’s going to be dorm like,” Brown said. “The bottom line is we’re not on the street. They claim they’re going to provide us with a cot, and three meals. You’ll be able to keep your body clean, do what you have to do, and keep looking.”
The homeless encampments at Guilford and Bath, Fallsway and Bath and St Vincent de Paul Park remained undisturbed as of Wednesday evening.