Glitch in System Leaves Homeless Hungry
When the city offered Dale Davis a place to stay, it sounded like a good idea. It was December and Davis had been homeless since the previous February, staying mostly under an overpass on Guilford Avenue. There were about 30 people there, he says, who took the city up on its offer to give them shelter, and since the end of December he has had his own room at a Quality Inn on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn, near the Beltway.
Davis, 29, is originally from Pigtown. He says he moved away to New York, got married, had a kid, and worked construction in the Catskills. It didn't work out, he says, and Davis ended up back in Baltimore, where an outstanding warrant on drug charges landed him in jail. After he got out, he says, he was on the streets.
And if he had it to do over again, he would have stayed on the streets, rather than take the room the city offered him at the Quality Inn, Davis said last week. Until recently, the city provided food for the homeless residents of the hotel via a catering service that delivered lunch and dinner. Dinner stopped a few weeks ago, and lunch stopped coming on Feb. 10. When he spoke to City Paper four days later, Davis had been living off the continental breakfast at the Quality Inn and calling the city Department of Housing trying to find out what's going on.
Reginald Scriber, the department's deputy commissioner for community services, says that the city has been providing subsidized meals for the residents at the hotel, but that all but a handful of them now have income and can get their own meals.
Davis says he was employed when he was homeless and had money saved in a bank account, but the city required him to be available to fill out forms for Section 8 housing vouchers and other services, so he was unable to keep his job. Davis says he appreciates what's been done--he's scheduled to move into his own apartment and is enrolled in a trade school to learn the building trades--but in the meantime, he's hungry. He's been wearing the same clothes for two weeks, he says, and his laundry piles up in the corner of his otherwise neat room. Officials with city Homeless Services say the homeless residents of the hotel have been given monthly bus passes, which Davis denies. He says he's cut off from the network of services he used in the city and the day-labor agencies that he worked for. A few weeks ago, he says, the hotel turned the homeless residents' lights out because the city didn't pay the bills.
Mary Terry, the hotel's general manager, confirms that she turned off the electricity to the rooms for a few hours recently, in an effort to get the city to pay up. Terry says she was frustrated by the city's lack of response to the unpaid bill, but that when the power went off, a check was quickly cut for part of the money.
Terry calls up a bill totaling more than $100,000 on the computer screen in her office. She says less than half of that has been paid by the city. Terry knew that the catered food stopped coming to the hotel but assumed the residents were being fed elsewhere. She says the situation explains the unusually long line for the continental breakfast the hotel provides for guests.
Scriber says the city has paid its bills.
"Whatever the Quality Inn is due, the city will take care of it," he said on Feb.14.
Terry's story, he says, is "not true at all. They wanted a check faster than the city could pay them." Of the incident with the electricity, Scriber says he heard about it, but believes a light pole went down in the neighborhood, and the area was without power for a while. BGE was unable to confirm a power outage in the area of the hotel. (In a later e-mail Scriber confirms that the hotel did turn off the power at one point.)
Scriber says meals are currently being arranged by the city Health Department's Office of Homeless Services, and that the homeless residents of the hotel are being fed.
"Keep in mind," he says, "they do get a continental breakfast." Scriber refers questions about the current meal plan to Diane Glauber, head of Homeless Services for the city.
Glauber said on Feb. 14 that her office was working to find another caterer to provide meals, and that by that afternoon the residents would be fed. She says her office moved quickly, as soon as it was notified that the catering contract had run out. Glauber says the meal stoppage was a glitch in an otherwise exemplary program, as the homeless residents of the hotel stayed longer than anticipated while the city found housing for them. She and Homeless Services' Greg Sileo, who has been working with the hotel residents, say they found out at the last minute that the catering contract was running out, although neither could say exactly when they learned of the problem. Davis says he has been in daily contact with Scriber's office trying to resolve the problem.
City officials all say that the meal stoppage was temporary and that, overall, the program had been a success under difficult time constraints. The homeless encampment on Guilford Avenue was a danger, they say, and Davis confirms that the move occurred after a homeless man set a fire to keep warm. Most of the residents, the city says, will be moved into more permanent Section 8 housing within the week. Glauber and Sileo say they are working to get furniture and amenities for the apartment once residents are moved in.
"We are extremely pleased on the comprehensive effort the city has put forth," Scriber says. "It's been one of the most positive things the city has done in a long time."
When contacted on the evening of Feb. 17, Davis said food service had been restored just hours after a City Paper reporter began making calls. "They just needed a little bump is all," he said.
"They brought us food out, brought us McDonald's cards," Davis said, standing outside his hotel room, in clean clothes. He got a key for his new apartment down the street from the hotel on Friday, and expected to move in on Monday. He also received a bus pass, and had a job interview scheduled for Monday with Martin's West.
He smoked a cigarette and waved from the balcony as the brother of the hotel's owner passed by. "It's going good."
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