Mayor's advisory board asks for moratorium on homeless camp destruction

The Journey Home board, the mayor's advisory panel on homeless policy, last night passed a resolution asking Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to impose a moratorium on the destruction of homeless encampments in the city.

The vote came following a contentious discussion that pitted homeless people in the audience and their advocates on the board against Jacquelyn Duval-Harvey, director of the Office of Human Services, who was among those who coordinated the city's recent displacement of an encampment on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The resolution was introduced by Antonia Fasanelli, executive director of the Homeless People's Representation Project. Fasanelli and other advocates are hoping to head off the uprooting of a longstanding encampment on the Fallsway corridor announced by Duval-Harvey's office last Thursday.

In calling for the moratorium, Fasanelli said some residents of the MLK encampment had successfully completed the process of applying for housing vouchers, and were just weeks away from placement in a permanent home.

"It seems to me that until we as a city can sort out the provision of permanent affordable housing to people who are homeless, we cannot also engage in the dislocation of people who are homeless," Fasanelli said. "What happened on Martin Luther King [Boulevard] several weeks ago was an abomination."

"I'm not going to address the issue of the MLK homeless shelter," Duval-Harvey told the board. "There is no intention to harm individuals. All of the effort was around putting people into a better situation."

Board member Kevin Lindamood, CEO of Healthcare for the Homeless, questioned the good faith of Duval-Harvey's statements.

"You're well aware that there's not sufficient emergency shelter resources that are accessible to extremely vulnerable people, many of whom have addictions and mental health problems," Lindamood told Duval-Harvey. "I find it appalling that this group wasn't consulted on the city's encampment policy, when we are the policy board advisory to the mayor."

The resolution passed by the board, a group of 29 city officials and private service providers, is not binding on the mayor, who has final authority to decide whether to continue with current plans to eliminate the Fallsway encampment.

On the sidewalk outside the meeting, Archie Williams, who recently moved out of that encampment, said he came to the meeting but chose not to speak because he wanted to get a close-up look at the authorities whose decisions have such a profound impact on the lives of unhoused Baltimore residents.

"I want to see what they do with that kind of power," Williams said. "And they showing what they doing with that kind of power. Nothing."

At that moment Duval-Harvey, Vidia Dhanraj, director of the city's Homeless Services Program, and their supervisor, deputy mayor Dawn Kirstaetter, were huddled with a homeless woman who had brought her months-old baby along with her to the meeting. Working the phones, they found her a place to stay for the night.

"If there’s any problem, you give them my name," Kirstaetter said.

Healthcare for the Homeless' director of communications, David Schneider, reflected on that scene while walking back to the HCH offices overlooking the threatened Fallsway encampment.

"It is both really good to see city officials working to try to find places for people to stay, but also tremendously distressing that even very high-ranking city officials have a hard time finding those places," Schneider said. "This shows that there are some profound, some enormous barriers to housing for people on the streets. If that group isn’t able to find places, how are people on their own going to find them?"

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