Signs appeared about a week ago, peppering the fence line on the east side of Guilford Avenue beneath I-83, site of a homeless encampment known informally as Camp 83. They warned that anyone with property under the overpass had to remove it by Nov. 10. That was today. Though it was tweeted out last night that a city sweep of the homeless encampment would occur at 6 a.m., 6 a.m. came and went and nothing happened.
Police arrived at about 7:30 a.m. and arrested a homeless woman for urinating under the overpass. She was later released. At 9 a.m. the mayor's office tweeted out a press release announcing the beginning of regular "clean-ups" of the site.
"The first cleanup will begin today at 10am and will occur Mondays and Thursdays between 10am and 2pm," it read. "The Department of Public Works (DPW) will clean the area to prevent the hazardous buildup of trash and human waste, and to deter the illegal dumping of large items, such as furniture. Outreach staff will continue working to engage residents at the site with housing services."
At about 10 a.m. a legion of Department of Public Works (DPW) workers, media types, gawkers, health care advocates, attorneys, and city officials converged on Camp 83. The initial thought, according to residents, was that homeless were to be evicted. By 1:30 p.m. despite the piles of personal belongings and furniture that were moved by residents and volunteers, no one was sure what was going on. Not the police, not the DPW workers, not the inmates who were sent over by the vanload to cart away the furniture, and least of all, the targets of the action, the residents of Camp 83.
Baltimore City's deputy mayor of the offices of Health, Human Services, Education, and Youth, Dawn Kirstaetter strode confidently out of the sun and into the cool dark of the 83 overpass. She had arrived at about 11, ready to be greeted by city employees working together to rid the space of the encamped homeless who reside there. She couldn't have been more wrong. What the hapless deputy mayor stumbled into was a bureaucratic morass of miscommunication and a broken city system.
As she took in the scene under the overpass, Kirstaetter explained that she was under the impression that the 20-some residents were going to be taken to various shelters, their belongings put into storage, and the area cleaned up. Instead, about 40 people were waiting around for an order to move that would never come. Her radiant, news-friendly smile melted into the angry frown of an official who had been misled by her underlings. In public.
"I apologize for the way this was handled," Kirstaetter said, addressing a group of Camp 83 residents. "For months we talked about the placement and the housing that should be afforded to you all. I don't want you to think we woke up and decided, 'Let's get rid of them.'"
It sure seemed that way though. Kirstaetter was visibly angry with the way the situation was handled. Police who were present thought that it wasn't an eviction, but a "cleanup." The residents and health care workers were braced for an eviction.
Kirstaetter explained to the residents that she was assured that city employees and case workers had visited the encampment several times to ready the residents for the sweep. Duane Davis, a homeless advocate, sympathized with the deputy mayor in a video interview.
Kirstaetter also mentioned to City Paper that there was a press conference about the sweep being held at City Hall, but after calling to confirm, she was informed that there was an issue with City Paper, who was not told or later informed of any such press conference.
"What did you do to City Hall to get a response like that?" she asked. "You all need to make up or something."
We have yet to hear of any press conference.
After talking to the staff of DPW and others from City Hall, Kirstaetter announced the residents can remain, though the city was going to powerwash the walls and ground. The tents further down Guilford Avenue were also allowed to remain.
See our gallery of the sweep HERE.