My letter to the Mayoral Workgroup on Homelessness on May 31st

There’s a Better Way workers in Albuquerque (Source: City of Albuquerque Mayor’s Office)

After the haphazard closing of the MLK encampment on March 3, Mayor Pugh assembled a workgroup on homelessness to come up with innovative ways to reduce homelessness. Fortuitously, I finished my thesis/capstone project at the beginning of May, and the Mayoral Workgroup on Homelessness was accepting comments until June 1st. This gave me the perfect opportunity to share my recommendations with the group.

Very brief bullet points of my recommendations to improve communications and public health:

  • Form a permanent city interagency council on homelessness comprised of
    members from human services, social services, DPW, HOT, behavioral health, transportation, housing, emergency management, and other relevant departments so that Baltimore City has a single, united front when interacting with the unsheltered homeless.
  • Provide trash cans and bags to residents and conduct long‐term, regular sanitation pick‐up. Provide large non-perishable and clothing donation bins on encampment sites so residents can re‐gift items that they do not need but are in good working condition.
  • Baltimore City should work with local businesses and social service providers in order to make access to bathrooms, shower facilities, laundry services, and electrical outlets available at or near encampments.
  • Create safe zones to camp so that the unsheltered have a stable place to live where they can maintain a small amount of personal autonomy and independence in their lives. They should ideally be located near public transportation, social services and commercial businesses for residents to easily access their case workers and fulfill everyday needs.
  • Provide encampment residents with modular “Better Shelter” temporary dwellings (designed by Ikea and the United Nations for refugee crises) because they can last up to three years and have more stability than a recreational tent which lasts only a few months. Each structure can hold up to a family of five and includes a solar panel for basic electricity needs.
  • Install and maintain portable toilets and portable camping showers at encampments to increase the sanitation of the residents and keep them from traveling to have to use bathroom facilities. They should also set up picnic tables where residents can eat, socialize, and host social service
    workers and advocates.

During my study, I learned that the residents hated panhandling because it is dangerous and humiliating, but they do it because it is the only way they can make money. Through partnerships with non‐profits, cities such as Albuquerque and Chicago have created employment programs that hire the unsheltered for day jobs beautifying streetscapes (picking up litter and pulling weeds). Baltimore City officials could create a similar program by copying this model:

  • Partner with a non‐profit that will drive a van around each morning to hire people for the day so
    that they can earn a stable wage at either an hourly or daily rate.
  • Provide lunch each day as well as access to supportive services such as behavioral health
    services, job preparedness training, and healthcare screenings.
  • Connect workers with permanent employment opportunities through the program.

While I am waiting for the release of the workgroup’s final report any day, I was excited to see two of my ideas in Mayor Pugh’s Violence Reduction Report, which was released on August 9th!! On page 14, under Objective 2: Better Serve the Baltimore City Homeless Population, the first and last bullet points looked a lot like my first and last bullet points!! I don’t have a monopoly on these ideas, of course, but it ‘s nice to think that my research influenced Mayor Pugh!!

  • Partner with organizations inside and outside government to coordinate and expand outreach.
  • Create “1” Day’s Work for “1” Day’s Pay grant program for community organizations to employ the unemployed.

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