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Baltimore City Council mulls homeless encampment sanitation issues

The front entrance of Baltimore City Hall.
Scott Maucione
The front entrance of Baltimore City Hall.

Baltimore City officials are searching for ways to keep the 23 homeless encampments across the city clean. Councilmember Phylicia Porter, who represents District 10 which includes neighborhoods from Cherry Hill to Pigtown, said she’s gotten many calls from community members about the tents. Porter requested the Baltimore City Council committee hearing on Wednesday.

“I say [they are] neighbors because many people when they think of persons experiencing homelessness, they think of people who can be discarded, they think of people who can be just left behind,” Porter said during the meeting.

In February, the mayor's office for homeless services was allocated $90 million, about $75 million of which stemmed from the American Rescue Plan Act money. While the funding is to support homeless services, none of it was specifically carved out for sanitation of the encampments.

But that's the issue Porter wants to tackle first.

“One of my first kind of charges is to really look at the sanitation issue we are facing in our encampments,” she said.

Instead, the money will help support emergency housing and shelters. The goal is to increase the supply of housing and help homeless individuals transition off the street. There are also some funds to help folks on the edge of becoming homeless who need small one-time grants to stay in their homes.

“The ARPA funds were specifically designated and applied for specific areas. None of those specifically addressed sanitation in encamped areas,” said William Wells deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Homeless Services. “To help keep areas clean, [the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services] provides encamped areas with trash bags and they can determine what is trash."

Then the Baltimore City Department of Public Works coordinates with the homeless services office for trash pick-up from the encampments directly. For now, the department of public works has a six-month contract to assist with cleaning the tent encampments which costs $60,000 but it has not yet begun.

Councilmember Danielle McCray, who represents District 2 which includes Frankford and Parkside, is also the chair of the health, environment and technology committee.

McCray said that the struggle to curb homelessness has been a lingering issue in Baltimore for decades.

“Various administrations have taken different approaches to address this yet the issue has persisted, impacting encampment residents and the surrounding community,” she said.

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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