Despite an historic national decline in the rate of homelessness across the U.S., Baltimore’s homeless population continues to grow. The most recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reveals that Baltimore’s homelessness population this year is 2725, up 6% from 2014, the last year Baltimore completed the count of homelessness.
James, a homeless man, stands in front of his tent in West Baltimore. (Photo by Deborah Bailey)
Nationwide the rate of homelessness declined by 3% between 2015 and 2016, according to the most recent Annual Homeless Assessment. Homelessness has declined overall by 14% since 2010, the year the Obama Administration launched Opening Doors, the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness, according to HUD.
Baltimore joins much larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, who bucked the trend of decline in the number of homeless persons.
“The change in the Point in Time Count of Homelessness has to do with our methodology. We had a more thorough count this year,” Vidia Dhanraj told the AFRO, director of homeless services for Baltimore.
“We’re certainly not as big as New York or Los Angeles, but we’re a metropolitan city that has the same issues. The unemployment rate is fairly high in Baltimore City, the increased cost of housing makes it hard to get an apartment, and in the Baltimore metropolitan area, it’s harder to get resources,” said Mary C. Slicher, executive director of Project Plase (People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment), an organization that served more than 1100 homeless Baltimoreans this year.
Baltimore’s unemployment rate is 5.8, the highest in the state of Maryland, according to data from the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation. Although overall unemployment has decreased in the city, the impact of unemployment is greater for low-wage workers, the poor and homeless, said Slicher.
Homeless tent dwellers camped along the city’s West Side aren’t surprised by the news that homelessness has increased across the city. “It’s not too surprising,” said Drew who lives in a tent with his family and would only give his first name. “Shelters offer us stuff, but Mom would have to stay separate from us,” he said referring to his mother, who is recuperating from emergency surgery and lives with him in the tent.
“The city doesn’t want the tents here, the people around here don’t want the tents here. We don’t even want the tents here. But there are things the city can do to make money, create jobs and help the homeless” Drew said.
Dhanraj said plans are already in place for the coming winter to offer support to the homeless. “We will have upwards of 8-10 outreach workers go out and connect with homeless persons this winter with strategies to increase that number with inclement weather,” Dhanraj said.
Mayor-elect Catherine Pugh pledged her support to transform the opportunity ladder for the city’s homeless during her Nov. 8 election night victory speech. “We have 3000 Homeless people across our city. And not only is that a problem for them, it’s a problem for you,” Pugh said.
The City of Baltimore issues a Code Blue alert during severely inclement weather, expanding the number of beds available to Homeless persons. Teams are activated to search the city for persons living outdoors during the weather crisis. A Code Blue was in effect during the record breaking January 2016 blizzard that dumped close to 30 inches of snow on Baltimore streets.
“When you see someone like me on the street you can give a prayer if nothing else,” said James, who lives on tent row in West Baltimore while recovering from neck surgery.