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Concrete Jungle

Homeless Affairs

Jay Sandler
The Aug. 5 groundbreaking of a new homeless facility

By Jay Sandler | Posted 9/3/2008

On a hot, sunny Aug. 7, in a shiny white party tent pitched up on a big lot between Fallsway and Hillen Street, a group of Maryland politicians gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new homeless facility. Jeff Singer, president and chief executive officer of Health Care for the Homeless (well-respected by a lot of homeless people in Baltimore), was joined by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Sheila Dixon, and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings to announce that the organization, which provides health services, education, and advocacy for homeless citizens, will construct a new multimillion-dollar clinic and headquarters that will open in 2010.

Some of the city's homeless residents came out to listen to what the politicians had to say. Among them was a 32-year-old welder who lost his job after police caught him driving drunk about four months ago. His truck was impounded, and he had problems getting it back. "They charge $100 per day they hold your car," he says, in addition to other fees he couldn't afford to pay. Because he didn't have a vehicle, he lost his job. And after he lost his job, he says, his girlfriend kicked him out.

Another fellow who came out to listen was 51-year-old Kenny, a guy who had been homeless for years till recently, when he found a place to live in Pimlico. "Unfortunately, I'll be back at the [homeless] shelter next week," Kenny says. "I can't afford the rent without a job."

Though Mayor Dixon promised earlier this year that she would end homelessness in Baltimore in the next 10 years, as long as there is poverty, there will be homelessness, and getting the city out of the swamp of poverty in the next decade is impossible. One out of five residents in this city is living in poverty, which means that more than 100,000 people in this city are poor--people struggling to survive, keep their jobs, and pay their bills. Many of the working poor are facing the threat of ending up out on the streets. Then there are those already out on the streets: thousands of citizens who have already lost everything.

"The homeless are the low end of the poor, people who lost their jobs, and folks who are too old or too sick to work," says my friend Mike, who is a retired homeless advocate. "There are felons who have never, ever held a real job in their whole life, and junkies, who need serious long-term help."

So ending homelessness in 10 years, he says, is just not likely to happen unless politicians find a way to solve poverty.

Even if you could get all of the city's homeless off the streets, there are so many poor people that new ones would come to take their place every day. And once you get out there, you are stuck in the cycle of poverty that's difficult to break. One of the things that happens when you are homeless is you start to suffer from serious depression, because when you are alone out there on the street, without any hope or change in sight, you start to go nuts.

Even the politicians know they aren't going to end homelessness in 10 years. If that were likely to happen, why would they invest millions of dollars in a new facility that isn't even going to be needed 10 years from now?

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An Occasional Column About Living On The Streets of The City

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