Twenty-eight homeless people died in Baltimore County in 2020. Advocates say many of those deaths could have been prevented.
Those who lost their lives were recently remembered at a memorial service.
It’s a grim, annual tradition at the service: the reading of the names of the county’s homeless who have died.
Sara Boz, Baltimore County’s homeless shelter administrator, read some of the names,” Edward D., 31 years old. Whitney E., 34 years old. Lamar H, 61 years old.”
A mandolinist played Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Those attending recited the prayer Litany for a Long Night, which includes the line, “We all could suffer this fate in a world which discards people as being of less worth. God open up our eyes to see and our hearts to care.”
“In many cases, this service will be the only commemoration of their life,” said Megan Goffney, deputy director of the Community Assistance Network.
The service is usually held each year at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson. This year it was held virtually, which meant some of the residents of the Baltimore County Westside Men’s shelter were able to attend.
Goffney said many of the 28 homeless deaths were due to lack of housing and emergency medical care.
She said COVID-19 has made it a roller coaster year for some who lost their jobs and their homes.
“So many people are hurting right now and those coming to our services for the first time,” Goffney said. “Some people facing homelessness that never in their mind would have thought they would be facing homelessness.”
It’s difficult to get an accurate headcount of the homeless. In 2018 it was estimated at 758 in the county, the third highest in the state. Baltimore City had far and away the most homeless, nearly 2,000.
Terry Hickey, Baltimore County’s Deputy Director of Health and Human Services, said the number of homeless people in the county appears to be holding steady for now. He said they are looking ahead to what they expect could be a “new cadre of homeless families” once people again can be evicted.
“These are folks that probably don’t have much, if any history with homelessness,” Hickey said.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s three shelters were nearly emptied. Residents were put in alternative housing like hotel rooms. Many of them were then moved on to permanent housing,
Hickey said the county is bringing people back into the shelters now, following CDC guidelines.
“We are using testing and brief hotel stays to screen people through to avoid outbreaks in the shelters, knock on wood we’ve been able to avoid so far,” Hickey said.
He said the shelters will be capped at 50% capacity.