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Residents of I-83 Encampment Get New Home
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March 7, 2013
by Mary Rose Madden
It’s been almost a month since the people who live in a homeless encampment under the JFX in Baltimore learned the city was planning to force them out. They sought help, but were still living in tents until yesterday when the last of them began moving out. For four years, Richard Martin, 62, has been living outside, across from the city jail, in a tent next to a highway ramp. Last night, his tent and those of his neighbors were surrounded by puddles and mud.
“I don’t wanna come back to this dump.”
He’s one of about nine who are getting a hand from local housing advocates, Christina Flowers and Loleta Chase.
“He got his guitar, he is ready to go!”
Chase watched Martin carry his guitar and his belongings to the edge of the encampment. Now he’s safe in a temporary shelter and soon he’ll move to a house on East 28th Street called Souls of Hope. Flowers is the head of Belvedere Assisted Living, a non-profit that operates transitional group homes and assisted living facilities. She said she knew Chase wanted to help the homeless so she turned to landlords and property owners she knows through the business.
“I got the buddy system because I deal with a lot of landlords. They just wanna make sure that people are taking care of their property. And, you know, I have the reputation of being a manager that can be able to do that."
Flowers said one landlord passed her to another until she met the man who leased them the house on East 28th Street.
“I said we got a bunch of homeless people that need a house – can, can we use this house?”
They have heat and running water, but not much else – they need donations. She says they’ve heard from Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and Olivia Farrow, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services.
“I’m getting a call I guess because they’re hearing that we’re stepping in and helping but I haven’t got the call to say that we’re gonna give this or give that yet.”
Farrow wrote in an email, “Many community partners are stepping up to try and help the camp residents.” But Flowers and others say the Mayor’s office needs to step up.
“The Mayor could’ve pushed the panic button and stopped all of this probably. Like, push the panic button ‘cuz people need help.”
Flowers stepped around piles of trash, milk crates, and a fire pit last night. She and Chase were making arrangements with the people to help them leave.
“I get off at like two o’clock in the morning. By the time I get off, that’s why… I’m definitely coming at 2 in the morning!”
A man who calls himself Turk and lives at the encampment told Flowers he can’t leave right away because of his job. Venus Miles said living at the encampment has made it hard to find a job.
“Boy it’s pretty hard to find a job when you’re homeless and it’s pretty hard to find a home when you’re jobless, you know?”
Miles said the homeless shelters are full of problems: sexual harassment, theft, and they split up the men and the women. She wants to stay close to her partner and to the makeshift community at the encampment. She went for coffee while Martin waited for Flowers to pick him up. He plucked his guitar and reminisced about the time he heard Eric Clapton botch one of his favorite songs, “Let It Rain”. Even Eric Clapton messes up sometimes, he says.
“When he messed up he realized it was happening. He actually began to go off stage and he turned around and came back.”
Flowers surveyed the encampment one last time before leaving for the night and wondered what would happen to the others elsewhere in the city.
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