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Concrete Jungle

By Jay Sandler | Posted 8/13/2008

Recent violent crimes in and around downtown Baltimore are creating fear and insecurity in Baltimore's homeless community. Quite a few homeless men I know have told me stories about how they were violently attacked on the streets. A few of the victims got away with just a black eye or a few scratches, but others suffer from the posttraumatic stress that kicks in after some stranger points a loaded gun into your face.

"It's no fun to be homeless in Baltimore," says Gary W., 46, a victim of a brutal attack that took place downtown earlier this summer. "Nobody cares, and you are all alone."

In late June, Gary was on the way to his sleeping "spot" in the Inner Harbor when three young men grabbed him and pushed him into a side alley. "I was walking down Saratoga Street, just around the corner from City Hall," he remembers. "They asked me for money, but I did not have any cash on me. . . . I guess that upset them even more."

He says they started stabbing him.

"They slit up my whole belly," he continues, lifting up his T-shirt to show his wound, a clean cut all the way down his stomach. "I was scared as hell, but somehow I managed to get away from them, and somebody called police and the ambulance."

Gary says there's one thing, besides the stabbing, that annoys him about the situation: "They were taking my new shoes after the ambulance guys took them off," he says. "When I asked to get them back, they told me that they had to keep them, as evidence. Evidence--what for?"

Jason S., a 34-year-old homeless man, was coming out of the subway station on Broadway on July 12 when some young fellows surrounded him. He says that one pointed a gun into his face.

"I was standing there, in the middle of the street, just 50 feet away from the policeman sitting in his booth," Jason says. "But it was too dark, and the officer could not see what was going on, that this guy was threatening me with a gun."

Jason was lucky to emerge from the altercation unharmed, losing only the $10 he had on him. He says he tried to report the incident, but the police officer he talked to told him not to bother.

In many of the violent run-ins the homeless have had on the street, the criminals have sought out single pedestrians--particularly those who are elderly, disabled, or just look like an easy catch. For example, 73-year-old Freddy E. was beat up in Northwest Baltimore on June 15. He says that eight or nine teenagers jumped him as he got off a bus. They beat him with their fists and sticks. Once he was down, he says, they kicked him in the face and stomach until he fell unconscious.

When he woke up Freddy was still lying in the street. "I was bleeding all over," he says. "I had no money on me, all they got was my ID."

The old man says he made it to his sister's house, bleeding and with a broken arm, and called 911

"The ambulance took me to Sinai Hospital," Freddy says. They operated on his arm, which needed two metal plates and more than 100 staples. He was released after five days.

Now, Freddy is staying in a homeless shelter because he says it's safer for him than on the streets. He says it's too dangerous for him to be out on his own in his condition.

"I cannot defend myself out there in the street," he says, "I cannot take care of myself."

Total costs for his surgery and the five hospital days, Freddy says, were more than $18,000. Freddy was shocked when he received the bill. "Why are they sending me the bill?" he asks. "I didn't do anything. Should the victim have to pay?"

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2007: I had a borderline awful time in Bucharest—and I kind of miss it

Trashing Days (12/23/2009)
2003: It wasn't the hotel-room living that got me called a pervert

More from Jay Sandler

As The Day Is Long (10/1/2008)

Homeless Affairs (9/3/2008)

Concrete Jungle (7/23/2008)
An Occasional Column About Living On The Streets of The City

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Tags: homelessness, crime, downtown

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