The homeless housing pilot project at 1200 North Fremont Ave. in the Upton community of West Baltimore, was scheduled to conclude Sept. 6. Yet, the uncertain status of the so-called “Tent City House,” seems to mirror the City’s policy on those experiencing homelessness.
(Screengrab from YouTube and Google Photo)
City officials and activists at the Upton site stated that the temporary facility was sheltering approximately 55 of Baltimore’s population of 2,669 homeless individuals. The facility’s population is unique in that is entirely made up of residents of the “Tent City” encampment that, until Aug. 23, occupied War Memorial Park at the foot of City Hall.
Requests for an official headcount by the city and a firm statement from those running the site day-to-day went unanswered or were denied. Residents of Tent City known to the AFRO by name were not confirmed to be in residence by activists on site.
Lawrence Brown, assistant professor at Morgan State University’s School of Community Health and Policy, referred to the project in a post on Medium.com as “Tent City West.” Brown described the Autonomous Transitional Housing Community (ATHC) as, “the perfect opportunity for innovative thinking. Residents and activists will be running the ATHC as residents build their capacity for self-governance and self-determination.”
The AFRO recently visited the former elementary school, now called “Tent City House” by residents, only to be turned away by a security volunteer. The volunteer claimed that visits by the press to observe goings-on inside were being blocked at the behest of the Mayor’s office.
Questions to Mayor Catherine Pugh’s spokesperson and her Human Services representative as to whether this is actual city policy, and requests for an explanation of it, have gone unanswered.
The AFRO was invited to the facility by a resident who raised serious questions about food security, security in general and issues of proper sanitation.
In an Aug. 26 phone call, the source described conditions akin to “a refugee camp.” The same source stated city officials returned to the site later and brought the living space up to conditions satisfactory to meet the source’s needs.
“We are in constant contact with the residents and the mayor has been there in person daily. We are not aware of any safety concerns,” Terry Hickey, director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, wrote in an e-mail response to the AFRO’s questions about conditions inside. “In fact, many of the residents have commented that they feel secure and involved in something important.
The building that was once William Pinderhughes Elementary stands one block down from the sign for Sandtown that reads “Where It Is Safe & Clean.” It is ringed by a chain-link fence and bound on one side by a row of boarded up homes. Abandoned tires and crushed traffic cones litter the sidewalks.
The AFRO observed the floors of the school swept and mopped clean. Every cot in the sleeping quarters had a blanket and pillow, and the air conditioning was running. Stickers on the outside of the building still indicated that the facility had no gas service or running water.
During the phone call, the source inside the facility claimed that the water used for bathing, while running, was rust-colored.
The city plans to use the shelter to house Tent City’s former residents until permanent housing can be arranged for every resident.
“We are in the beginning of a 2-week assessment period at Pinderhughes,” wrote Hickey. “We are actively working with the tent city group to collaboratively make long term plans while we focus on matching residents with permanent housing. There are no solid plans yet for long term improvements to the building but this will be discussed in the days to come.”
A request for an update on planned and completed improvements of the facility was not answered.
Kenneth Gwee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has been on the ground at the building since its establishment on Aug. 14, and told the AFRO that the mayor visited the shelter on Aug. 24, 25 and 26. He said he sees no loss of momentum since residents vacated the park.
“The whole reason that we were out there were housing and jobs and that’s being addressed,” said Gwee. “So, the momentum is now on actually getting housing and jobs and everybody here is excited about that. So, I would say that the momentum is still growing. And just the potential of what this building can be, is even more exciting. Because, once this program works, you can then duplicate it to address people who weren’t a part of Tent City.”