Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was met by protesters at two events at the Henderson-Hopkins School in East Baltimore, not far from the hospital where he rose to national fame as a pediatric neurosurgeon.
On Thursday, Carson was at the school for a housing fair, touring booths about various programs and posing for pictures. After Carson, surrounded by other officials and Secret Service agents, heard about the Sustainable Resource Center's program to teach children about lead poisoning, as well as its mascot, Leadie Eddie, a woman in purple scrubs confronted him holding a sign that read "HUD + Hopkins Promote Housing Segregation." It was hard to hear their exchange over the sound of a DJ, but at one point the woman could be heard saying, "Stop telling poor people that they should be comfortable without affordable housing." Carson appeared to attempt to engage the woman, but she walked away. She declined to give her name to City Paper.
Inside the gymnasium, the housing secretary circled the room and talked with representatives from Habitat for Humanity, the University of Maryland, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan, and other organizations. Near the end of his route, he was met by the phone camera of activist Duane "Shorty" Davis, who asked if Carson remembered him from several catering gigs. He didn't. Davis offered a welcome back to Baltimore and a simple plea: "We need some help with homelessness."
Carson went back outside to continue his tour, making his way toward a mobile health care center set up by Kaiser Permanente. On the sidewalk holding signs were Jeff Singer and Lauren Siegel, of CASH: City Advocates in Solidarity with the Homeless, and four or five other demonstrators. "Support, Don't Destroy, Public Housing! More Money for HUD!" Singer's sign read. Once Carson whizzed by, Singer had a word with Carol Payne, Baltimore's Field Office Director for HUD. "What they're doing to public housing's terrible," he told her.
Singer and Siegel are adjunct professors at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work here in Baltimore, and they both said the billions of cuts proposed for HUD are bad policy.
Like health care, housing is treated like a commodity when it shouldn't be, Singer said, adding the current HUD budget should be about 10 times larger than it already is. "Everyone oughta have a right to housing and health care."
Siegel cited proposed cuts to housing subsidies and raises in costs for families that will only create more homelessness.
"It's a terrible situation, and we just had to come out here and protest what Secretary Carson supports," she said.
The protesters were out in larger numbers at Henderson-Hopkins on Wednesday. They gathered for Carson's meeting with various officials, which they had learned would happen around 2:45 p.m. Walking a banner that read "People Over Profit" around the campus, the 20 or so people chanted "Housing is a human right—fight, fight, fight," and invoked Carson's lack of experience and clueless comments on housing.
Not far from the school, a black S.U.V. with D.C. plates idled in the parking lot—parked in the handicapped space, some observed—evidence that Carson was inside already. Eventually, a meeting room that protesters could see through the windows filled up with Carson and other officials* clearly present.
The protesters held up their signs in view of Carson and others and hovered for the duration of the meeting. Some remarked that Carson's schedule, which involved a meeting with the mayor earlier in the day, had been strangely secretive and, indeed, Carson, his handlers, and security at Henderson-Hopkins seemed strangely scared of the small group of protesters, which included members of Health Care for the Homeless, Housing Our Neighbors, and others.
By the time the meeting adjourned, almost two hours later, only one protester remained—he held a sign and wore a "Fuck Trump" shirt.
Carson's SUV, meanwhile, had pulled into the grass and up to a gate so that Carson could exit the building and get into the car without being seen or photographed.
*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Baltimore City Health Commissoner Leana Wen was present at the meeting attended by Secretary Carson. City Paper regrets the error.