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Homeless Count Elicits Strong Reactions
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February 1, 2013
City workers, advocates and volunteers gathered at the Cylburn Arboretum this morning to discuss The Homeless Persons Bi-Annual Count. The numbers won’t be in for a month or so. But the group was successful in finding the 75 most vulnerable people living on the streets, an initiative called 75 Journeys Home. WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden was there and brings us this report.
Mary Rose Madden: Nobody was disappointed with this week’s effort to find the city’s chronically homeless and get them into permanent housing quickly. In fact, everyone was encouraged by the number of volunteers and the effort made by so many non-profits, as well as the city. However, some raised questions about the city’s strategy for allocating beds. Brooks Long was one of a group of activists gathered outside this morning’s news conference with the mayor. He’s singing, others are holding signs that read “Who is the #76?” and “Everyone is Vulnerable” and “75 Journeys Home Is Not Enough”. In the frigid temperature, Long’s fingers are having a tough time playing the guitar. So, he drops his pick and belts out the lyrics.
Brooks Long (singing): Sleeping on grates for heat, every one of them is vulnerable – that’s the word on the street. Do we shrug our shoulders or does it really have to be like this? How happy am I for 75, but who is 76? (speaking) We all understand the city is trying to do a great thing. We’re very happy for those 75 folks, but we’re here to challenge everybody to do a little bit better.
Mary Rose Madden: A 48-year-old man who goes by ShockAZooLoo writes and edits for Baltimore’s Homeless Newspaper, Word On The Street. A veteran of the 101st Airborne Division, he says he’s trying to get homeless services for the most vulnerable vets.
ShockAZooLoo: Some of the veterans out there who aren’t fortunate enough to get into programs like McVets, Perry Point, and other veteran run programs because of Post-Traumatic Stress and Schizophrenia and stuff like that.
Mary Rose Madden: Often the most vulnerable are the most difficult to get the services to and they’re usually somewhat difficult to house. These folks don’t always apply for the services they need or they miss appointments. They often have severe mental illness or drug problems. Sometimes, they don’t “present well” – that is they cuss out intake coordinators. For whatever reason, they can’t get what permanent housing subsidies the city does have. And no one knows exactly how much subsidized housing for the homeless is available in Baltimore. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says finding housing for the most vulnerable will take an “all hands on deck effort.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: The mission of our ten year plan hangs on this work. The 75 individuals we identify today are using the most resources – the most shelter beds, the most ambulance trips, the most hospital as well as jail stays. Maintaining their homelessness costs so much money that we cannot provide enough services to the rest of the homeless population to meet the goals. We can’t give up.
Mary Rose Madden: The city says they received permanent housing subsidies for between 75 and 90 people. And that 21 non-profits and city agencies already have committed to putting those chronically homeless on the fast track for housing. Yet as the representatives of non-profits at the Cylburn Arboretum viewed photos, heard stories, watched a video, and saw some of the early figures from this week, they stood up and offered to dig a little deeper into their pockets to find money for move-in kits – that is, security deposits and furniture.
One of those was Lieutenant David Clements, the CEO of MCVETS, Maryland Center for Veterans, a non-profit that helps veterans who are homeless, deal with drug abuse or have a mental illness.
David Clements: We normally provide housing services only through our continuum of care, however to show our further commitment to 75 Journeys, we will provide up to ten single room occupancy housing units to eligible veterans.
Mary Rose Madden: Standing a few rows behind him, ShockAZooLOO pumped his fist in the air – looking excited to see some momentum on this issue.
I’m Mary Rose Madden, reporting from Baltimore for 88-1 WYPR.
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