Donald Gresham, a medical technician, never imagined he would be homeless.

Gresham, who helped people for a living, needed help himself. He lived on the third floor of a building in very undesirable living conditions where the winters were brutally cold.

Gresham said “I learned how if you go to bed at a certain time and wrap yourself in a certain way you would be warm. But, one night I went to bed and literally thought I was going to die, and I told God don’t let me die in this position.”

That comment silenced the crowd and set the tone for many homeowners, renters, and homeless to share their stories on March 29 at St. Wenceslaus Church Hall.

A diverse crowd of eastside organizations spearheaded by the United Workers came to the “Speak Out” event to voice their displeasure of failed development policies. They hoped that in coming together they could find a solution.

Sharina Johnson of the United Workers, a human rights organization, said, “Communities are being displaced and rent is starting to rise where people already in the community can’t afford to stay here. We’re here to try to bring about a change.”

Johnson reminded everyone of the United Workers core values, highlighted on posters. The values include participation, accountability, equity, universality, and transparency. She believes that those values are important for communities to maintain structure.

Rachel Kutler of United Workers explained that the affordable housing crisis affects everyone. According to Kutler there are 40,000 vacant or abandoned homes. Baltimore City has 4,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. “Vacant housing is a problem for everybody. Homeowners lose equity in their houses. For renters, when you have a smaller supply of housing to stay in your rent goes up” Kutler said. “For homeless it’s a moral crisis in Baltimore that we have people sleeping on the street and at the same time we have this huge resource in our .”

Kutler, with many in Baltimore, is striving for fair development and would like to see many of the resources going downtown being put into the communities. Mike Rogers, active in community organizations, explained that not having affordable housing could affect a person’s health. He said if people have to choose between proper medical care and paying the rent they have no choice, but ignoring medical problems.

Many individuals who shared their stories experienced having to move many times. One was Shantress Wise, who moved 16 times. She said she worked as a housekeeper for 10 years. She took off two weeks for surgery and came back to find she lost her job. She was moved out of her house by developers, and her rent increased by 50 percent. Another was Beth Myers, a long time renter, who has moved 21 times in 29 years and wants stability. She has a master’s degree and does not qualify for a loan that will make her a homeowner. “In a system that prioritizes profit over people, I’m not Beth, I’m just a dollar sign that walks down the street,” Myers said.

Two candidates running for the 45th district delegate position told the crowd they could relate to the same problems. Kevin Parsons grew up on N Wolfe Street, which is now used for Johns Hopkins student housing. He even mentioned there has been displacement in his own family. Cory McCray lives in the Overlea community and shared how he had to sleep on a family friend’s couch as a child.

With all the housing injustices and stories people shared, Warren Street, vice president of the McElderry Park Community Association, believes finding a solution comes from holding public officials accountable. “We need to hold county officials accountable for the jobs we elect them to do,” Street said. “I get so many complaints from the street, in the neighborhood and the market, but I don’t see their faces in the meetings.”

 

Jonathan Hunter

AFRO Staff Writer