As part of Homeless Persons Memorial Day, about 100 people gathered near the Fallsway and St. Vincent de Paul Church last night to remember homeless people who have died. The event was organized by Bmore Housing For All—a group that includes many with direct experience with homelessness—but many homeless people present stayed on the periphery of the event and simply looked on. And some felt that they were not properly represented.
"[They should] get out here and talk to us," said Robert Bowser, a 38-year-old homeless man who was standing with friends in front of his tent less than 10 yards from the gathering. "Find out what's going through each individual [homeless person's] mind."
A large sign with "The First Day of Winter. The Longest Night of the Year." on it was placed in the front of the gathering. It was surrounded by 102 smaller signs with the names of the homeless who died in Baltimore this year, at least the ones known to service providers, advocates, and the medical examiner's office. The names were read one by one with the gatherers chanting "We remember" after each.
"You know something? They got everybody's name up there that died from being homeless. That's not even half of it. That's not even half of it," said Lawrence Henderson, 42, Bowser's tent mate.
"You know why this ain't really a strong effort?" Henderson asked.
"The mayor ain't here," Bowser interrupted—the Deputy Mayor Dawn Kirstaetter was attending in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's stead.
"Stephanie Rawlings-Blake . . . is sending other people. You're supposed to be mayor. Come do it yourself. We not goin' [to] hurt you. We not goin' [to] bite you," Henderson said.
Kirstaetter told the gathering that "Safe, decent, and affordable housing has become increasingly inaccessible . . . and [Baltimore City] recognize[s] that every member of society should have the right to quality, safe, [and] affordable housing . . . Baltimore City has established a vision to make homelessness rare and brief."
As Kirstaetter wrapped up her speech, a member of the gathering yelled, "She is a hypocrite."
By this morning, "No Trespassing" signs were placed in front of Bowser and Henderson's camp.
Adam Schneider, director of community relations at Healthcare for the Homeless, noticed the signs and contacted Kirstaetter. She had the Department of Public Works immediately remove them.
Over the phone, Schneider said that although last night's memorial is important, more "will" must be generated to eradicate homelessness.
"The last time in this country that we see homeless on the scale we see it today was the Great Depression," he said.
"At that time we were shocked as a nation that this was going on and we acted in a dramatic way," Schneider continued. "We are the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. It can't be a problem of scarcity. It has to be a problem of distribution. The question is, 'Do we prioritize basic human needs above anything else?'"