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The Nose

No Place to Call Home

Posted 1/30/2008

The Nose observed with interest recent events concerning the homeless in Baltimore, and also did a little basic math we'd like to share.

Now, before we go any further, remember: We're not a squinty, green-eyeshaded ogre like those employed in legions by The Man, and we're not some half-drunk bloviator at Ropewalk, genuflecting to the Reagan statue while pontificating about "running government like a business." We know things are complicated, and simple answers to complex social problems are often just naive.

But still. Consider this passage from the Jan. 18 Sun, in reporting the release of Mayor Sheila Dixon's 70-page, "10-year plan to end homelessness:"

"In the past five years, the city has received about $100 million in federal funds targeted at homelessness, said Philip F. Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, who attended the news conference. He said there is political will and financial backing to end homelessness."

Wait-$100 million?

Whenever we see a big number like that, we find it helpful to divide it into the population on the receiving end: $100 million over five years is $20 million per year. If Baltimore has 3,000 homeless people-the city's estimate-that works out to $555 per month per homeless individual.

Now, everything being equal, that should just about cover rent on an efficiency here in Charm City. (It is decidedly more than the going rate to live in a typical "recovery house" or group home for drug addicts.) And that $555 per month figure doesn't count any income the homeless may earn panhandling or working, or by dint of their relationship with the Social Security Administration, which, according to its own figures, delivers monthly checks to some 136,000 disabled city residents.

And it doesn't include the $14 million Our Daily Bread soup kitchen and employment center that opened last year next to the jail, which offers to the homeless just about everything a homeless person might need, except a home ("Too Much Bread?" Mobtown Beat, Nov. 16, 2005).

So, paging through Dixon's plan we see a lot of stats about how much money it costs to keep an average itinerant on the street. And that's good-that suggests she already knows that we're spending way more than we need to on the homeless; it's just a matter of redeploying all that money efficiently so that homeless folks get housing and needed services. But instead, Dixon is proposing more funding from "city, state, federal, and private sources." And she's spending more while she proposes it, as the Board of Estimates' decision on Jan. 23 to pay $125,000 to two motels attests.

That's where Dixon stashed 41 homeless folks whom emergency officials evicted from a camp under I-83 in December.

The cost to house them has been about $67 per night, which works out to $2,010 each for the month. And so, much to the Nose's frustration, the homeless funding-crisis continues. . . .

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