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Baltimore's Homeless Count Begins
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January 28, 2013
Several Maryland counties are conducting a homeless persons count this time of year. The census is required by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. It helps the decide what funding should be put towards homelessness. The last time the census was taken in Baltimore, 4,000 people were counted as homeless. Today, Baltimore workers blanketed the city to conduct their count. WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden was there and brings us this report.
Mary Rose Madden: In the predawn darkness, roughly seventy volunteers waited in line to sign in, and file into the cafeteria at Our Daily Bread on Fallsway. Coffee and doughnuts were spread by the entrance and folks look more jovial than they should have at this early hour.
Volunteer: So, we’re going on the other side of Greenmount Cemetery, so it’s a bit of a hike.
Madden: Group leaders went over their plans and handed out the packets of surveys. Gabby Knighton is Outreach Coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Human Services. She says about 300 volunteers signed up to help with the census. Compare that to the number of volunteers who signed up the last time the census was administered.
Gabby Knighton: Oh it’s way more. Yeah. We had about 150 two years ago.
Madden: Volunteers, like Frank Richardson. He said this is his first time coming out for the census.
Frank Richardson: And I do what I can to help out with the homeless issue and the hunger issue.
Madden: We approach a nearby encampment under the 83 ramp, just a few blocks from City Hall and a dog starts barking immediately. Tents, quilts, tarps, a cluster of chairs are set up around a firepit. Volunteers try to wake people up to complete the survey. Richardson:
Richardson: No – he didn’t want to do the survey. He looked like he doesn’t want to be bothered right now.
Madden: The first day of the homeless persons count is off and running, but the challenges are great. At midday, two lines of people were waiting to get a free hot meal back at Our Daily Bread. The hot meal program serves about 750 people a day. It’s a mainstay in Baltimore’s services for homeless people. John Coker, 50 years old, says he comes here every day, nowadays. Coker lived in Washington DC until a year ago when he lost his job, working for the federal government. It’s his opinion and many others that says the city should do something more efficient with the abundance of vacant, abandoned homes around the city.
John Coker: Right now I’m kinda, to be blunt, disappointed the way the system is dealing with homelessness. Because there’s a lot of boarded up houses in Baltimore where I live that could be better utilized by the people that’s homeless. It would also create jobs for them and it would also give them a viable, safe environment for them to live in.
Madden: He says people need to get housing first and foremost – it’s hard to get a job and keep it when you don’t know where you’ll be spending the night.
Coker: Yes, I’m now on, it’s called a waiting list for housing. Public housing that entails Section 8 also. And that can take about two years.
Madden: Like many others, Coker is on the waiting list for Public Housing. Robert Payne says he’s been on that list for two years. A black cat crawls out of his tent at the encampment. He says four years ago, he was a computer scientist. But now, he’s angry that public housing is such a dead end for so many.
Robert Payne: There are people on the waiting list for no reason. All the nitpicking things to get Section 8 whatever and I paid for it already. One time I was being cussed out by somebody in DC for um, Housing and Urban Development. They told me it’s a privilege to be on Section 8, on public housing and all this.
Madden: Payne says the homeless population needs that waiting list to open up. And many think he’s got a point. But right now, in the dead of winter, Payne and others must find a way to survive outside, all night.
Payne: You gonna stay here you get a sterno. You burn a sterno to use to cook? Yeah. You put it on the cooking fuel? We use the gel or the wick. Put it on piece of metal or something so it won’t burn your blanket and yeah, you can stay warm.
Madden: Payne, Coker, and thousands of others will be watching to see how the count affects those on Baltimore’s streets. I’m Mary Rose Madden reporting in Baltimore for 88.1 WYPR
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