Advocates Condemn Clearing of Baltimore’s ‘Camp 83’ Homeless Encampment
City clears ‘Camp 83’ and refuses to find residents shelter but private citizen provides campers temporary housing
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: In Baltimore, Maryland, on Friday, March 8, city officials used dump trucks and bulldozers to clear Camp 83, the site of an encampment that more than a dozen homeless residents had made home for years.
Advocates and Camp 83 residents, including Michael Wiggins, demonstrated during the eviction to draw attention to the city’s policies towards homelessness.
MICHAEL WIGGINS, FMR. CAMP 83 RESIDENT: I’m out here because I was released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons with nowhere to go and I’m homeless. And if the city doesn’t promote homeless people to find jobs and schools and things of that type of nature–.
NOOR: The move was opposed by advocates like city councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who introduced a bill to delay the eviction in order to give residents more time to find temporary housing. When the city made it clear it was going ahead with its plan and not making alternatives to the shelter system available to the camp residents, Christina Flowers of Belvedere Assisted Living made two houses temporarily available for the campers to stay.
The move comes at a time of rising homelessness across the country and a federal sequestration cutting an estimated $100 million in federal aid to curb homelessness nationwide. The city justified its action to a local news station with the following statement:
“We can’t allow people to live in an unsafe improvised encampment. The Office of Homeless Services will reach out and work with each individual to connect them with the services they need to live independently and off the streets.” –Baltimore City Mayor’s Office
But many like Wiggins are angered by the limited nature of city services available to him. Wiggins said he stayed at Camp 83 because his school schedule requires him to miss the daily shelter intake, making it impossible for him to secure a bed there. He says Camp 83 provided his only refuge.
M. WIGGINS: I’m enrolled at an all-state truck driving school, and I got a $10,000 grant. I get out of school at 1:40 in the afternoon. I don’t have anyplace to go at 1:40 because I haven’t been counted that day in order to get a bed. So I have to walk around the streets and sleep underneath confinements like this, you know, and be safe and whatnot, because I don’t have anywhere to go.
NOOR: He also said the city has failed in basic outreach about the homeless services it does provide.
M. WIGGINS: This person that’s standing next to me, he didn’t even know what a homeless shelter was, and it’s a half a block away from underneath of this encampment. And he’d never seen a director of the homeless shelter or anybody till the day when they came out doing this demonstration.
TIMOTHY WIGGINS, FMR. CAMP 83 RESIDENT: It’s kind of rough down here. It’s kind of rough when we can’t get in there ’cause we got to come around here and there’s all walks of life in here. And–you know. And then you’ve got to be sitting there. Sitting there, you’ve got to be careful whose bag you sit by. You know, a fight could break out. And then you look at it, we’re right here by the jail. You know. So you would think you would be safe, but you’re not.
NOOR: Camp 83 residents were joined by homeless advocates like Rachel Cutler with the group Housing Our Neighbors.
RACHEL CUTLER, HOUSING OUR NEIGHBORS: We thought it was a great injustice that individuals are living out in the street and that a solution that was prevented was an eviction, ’cause we know that evicting people, displacing them, moving them around doesn’t end homelessness, that in fact housing individuals and housing them first before you–without any contingencies is what ends homelessness.
NOOR: An estimated 4,000 Baltimore residents are homeless every night, and advocates argue that homelessness is a problem exacerbated by city policy that benefits corporations while failing to address the lack of affordable housing in the city.
CUTLER: [incompr.] ten-year plan to end homelessness. We’re five years through. And one thing that that ten-year plan highlights is this need to–is the housing-first model. And we felt that by evicting these individuals now and dispersing them throughout the city–and thankfully, now they’re going to more of a transitional housing facility.
We did not end homelessness today. We’re further perpetuating the problem. One million dollars was just subsidized to pay the Hiltons’ debt, and yet we can’t house some of our neighbors.
NOOR: Advocates say they will continue to work with the now former Camp 83 residents to ensure they receive legal representation and find temporary shelter. Wiggins says the crisis of homelessness will continue in Baltimore and across the country until action is taken to address its root causes.
M. WIGGINS: It’s a temporary solution to a foul and dirty situation. And the federal government in the United States and the City of Baltimore councilmen, congressmen, everybody knows that all you’re doing is pushing dirty trash up underneath the carpet and hope the hump don’t get too big for anybody to see it. It’s like Dante’s Inferno up under there, triply times over again.
NOOR: In collaboration with Stefanie Mavronis and Mark Gunnery of the Marc Steiner Show, for The Real News this is Jaisal Noor.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.