Over the summer, I had been keeping track of three different things going on in Baltimore’s unsheltered homeless community: (1) the road to housing for some of the MLK encampment residents, (2) harassment from the HOT team and other city agencies to the residents of the scattered encampments near I-83, and (3) the sudden rise of a tent city in front of City Hall.
I promise that I’ll cover (1) and (2) in later posts, but right now, (3) is the most immediately timely event.
On the evening of Sunday, August 13, there was a rally in Wyman Park Dell in front of the Jackson-Lee in solidarity with Charlottesville against Neo-Nazism. One of the organizing groups of the event, Baltimore BLOC, passed out flyers and made announcements for another event the next evening: Tent City. Originally meant as a protest against the manatory minimum sentence for gun possession, Tent City’s mission expanded to include the removal of confederate statues and the lack of affordable housing, hoping to carry some of the energy from the rally into their event the next day.
The next day, August 14th, Tent City began as an “Occupy Part 2”, where the group would stay camped in front of City Hall until Mayor Pugh addressed their demands for a Racial Equity Benefits Agreement. This agreement included a citywide Housing First program, changes in homeless shelter policy, and lead paint removal. Another group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), took charge of this event. Below is a flyer that I received stating their goals.
I camped out with the group on the first night to show solidarity with them. SCLC had purchased 30 tents for the event, and a few others pitched their own. Most importantly, in addition to the advocates, about 55 people experiencing homelessness camped at the event. There was a lot of anxiety that first time – excitement that this was really happening, fear that the police would come and break it up. Some people were so nervous that they didn’t sleep at all.
When I went away on vacation on August 18th, Tent City was still stationed in front of City Hall. By the time I returned on the night of August 23rd, the entire camp had been dismantled and its homeless residents moved to the old Pinderhughes Elementary-Middle School in Upton. I’m still learning all of the details and will outline them in another post – the point is that something changed. Tent City advocates wanted actual housing, not a cot in a shelter…so how did they end up there?
Part of the answer is that as part of their agreement with Mayor Pugh, the shelter would be cooperatively run by the homeless! While it may not be a house, this is quite an innovative idea for Baltimore!
How will this work out? There’s only one way to know, and that’s to live it! The city promised the facility to the residents for two weeks and that they would conduct assessments for residents during this time. The leaders hope that everyone will eventually be housed and that the co-op model will continue beyond the two weeks at Pinderhughes to help other unsheltered homeless citizens of Baltimore.
I’m going to be filling in the details and sharing as much as I can about the residents and the leaders of Pinderhughes, so stay tuned!