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New Housing Project Aims To Alleviate Homelessness

Groundbreaking ceremony for Sojourner Place at Oliver. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR
Groundbreaking ceremony for Sojourner Place at Oliver. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Baltimore city officials and developers broke ground Thursday for Sojourner Place, a project in the Oliver neighborhood to house people transitioning out of homelessness.

Named after Black abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, the project is a collaboration between Baltimore nonprofits Health Care for the Homeless and the Episcopal Housing Corporation.

Kevin Lindamood, President and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless, began with the indigenous custom of land acknowledgment, reflecting on the Piscataway people who lived here before colonization, as well as the slavery and housing segregation that followed.

“We stand on stolen land, we stand on redlined land, we stand with this community to make possible quality affordable housing to both prevent and end homelessness,” Lindamood said.

Long before Oliver became a filming location for The Wire, the neighborhood was home to some of the nation’s oldest Black businesses, and the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party.

“It is true that racist exploitation and theft impacted the Oliver neighborhood. It is equally true that East Baltimore's history of black activists and business leaders carries a proud legacy as well,” Lindamood said.

Lindamood said he hopes Sojourner Place will have a role in continuing that legacy by alleviating homelessness.

The project, set for completion in fourteen months, has 70 apartment units and is expected to cost about $22 million to build, with the bulk of that money coming from the state housing department.

Daniel McCarthy, the executive director of the Episcopal Housing Corporation, said half of those units will go to people who are transitioning out of homelessness. The other half will be set at affordable rates for moderate income households.

McCarthy said he preferred to think of this groundbreaking ceremony as a “ground making.”

“We are making something on this site right behind us that will change, hopefully, the lives of many of the people that will live here, that we can connect with the rest of the community,” McCarthy said. “We can build together to make something really special here and not break something special here.”

Mayor Brandon Scott said he’s been to many events like this one, but that this project stands out. He described Sojourner Place as a turning point for the neighborhood.

“What we're doing here today is about working to undo that very work that divided our city into the segregated city that we still live in, that decided that people who look like me, women, poor people, folks who were suffering from homelessness should not be treated like they were human in many cases,” Scott said.

Earl Johnson of the Oliver Community Association said the building will be a step forward for the city’s most vulnerable.

“A lot of people didn't want this building here. Why? Because it makes us realize that we have very vulnerable people that we're just not taking care of,” Johnson said.

Mark Council, an organizer for Housing Our Neighbors and a board member of Health Care for the Homeless who has experienced homelessness, said that while Sojourner Place is a good project, the city has a long way to go.

“This is like a start,” he said. “I'm not going to say congratulations. I’m just going to say we need more of this

More than 2,000 people in Baltimore experience homelessness on any given night, according to the Mayor's Office of Homeless Services.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.