Residents of 26th Street displaced by the April 30 landslide were happy to see Reginald Scriber, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City's deputy commissioner for community services, after they were told they would have to leave their homes for their own safety.
But when they learned where the city planned to put them up-hotels in Catonsville and Glen Burnie-several balked.
"I didn't go to the facilities because what I saw on the bedbug registry," says Konrad Crispino, a resident of the street who works as a graphic designer at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Crispino, his wife, and 6-year-old daughter are now uptown at the Radisson Cross Keys, he says. But they had to stay with friends the first two nights because the city did not have closer or better accommodations.
Two other 26th Street residents say they did not avail themselves to the city's relocation services, opting instead to stay with friends or family while they work out how to put their lives back together.
"They were kind of out of our area," says Nick Reyes, the man who shot the video of the landslide that ended up going viral, of the hotels the city offered. "It was hard for people to deal with." Reyes' Jeep Grand Cherokee went over the cliff and was crushed the next day by a CSX contractor, he says. It was another day after that-Friday, May 2-before city housing officials offered closer hotels, he says.
Nels Schumacher and his fiancé are staying with a friend in Perry Hall, he says.
Much of the coverage of the disaster-it took out half a city block and about 10 vehicles, and stopped train traffic through Baltimore for most of a full day-has focused on its predictability. Residents of the street-including a civil engineer-have been for more than two decades predicting that the retaining wall holding the street three stories above the CSX right-of-way would collapse. The city and the giant railway were content to let it slide.
But unexamined so far is the city's disaster response. "The city was trying to do their best to deal with it," Crispino says. "They were ill-prepared to deal with it."
Crispino says city officials could learn a lot from the Bloomberg School, where Ph.D.'s teach disaster-response best practices-which include not only the provision of housing, food, and transportation, but also mental health.
"I think they need to train their people better to deal with emotional distress," Crispino says. The Department of "Health and Mental Hygiene could have stepped in. The Red Cross could've stepped in."
Scriber-who has been with HABC for more than 30 years and, for eight years, has been the point man for people displaced by fires, floods, and even street violence-sounds irritated when told of Crispino's concerns. His agency houses hundreds of people every year, but seldom does it deal with homeowners who have experience in public health or emergency management matters. He defers questions to the department's director of communications, Cheron Porter, who a day later says she'll get back to City Paper "early next week."
Experts at the Bloomberg School don't do better. "We are following up with our group internally to see who may be available," Susan L. Sperry, the school's senior director of communications and marketing wrote in an email.
"I still have a challenge trying to feed my 6-year-old," Crispino says. The Radisson is nice (and not on any bug-infestation lists), but with no kitchenette, "I'm not sure I can do this for a month."
He says he hopes the next people in his predicament meet a better-trained and prepared city government. "If I can do anything to point them in the right way to make things easier for the next person," he says, "I'll do it."