Tents set up Wednesday to raise awareness for homelessness outside City Hall taken down Friday morning

Published on: August 19, 2022 8:43 PM EDT|Updated on: August 19, 2022 10:13 PM EDT

At around 10:30 a.m. on Friday outside Baltimore City Hall, bright red tents were taken apart and packed into trash bags and backpacks. Sleeping bags lay on the ground. Trash and cardboard were thrown away.

About two hours later, the 17 tents that advocates set up early Wednesday morning to raise awareness about homelessness in the city, were nearly gone.

The cleanup followed negotiations and confrontations earlier Friday morning between Deputy Mayor of Equity, Health and Human Services Faith Leach and occupants of the tents, many of whom are experiencing homelessness. City officials wanted the tents gone to make room for another event, but said they could return at a later time.

“We have our back-to-school event that’s being set up, they start set up at 10 o’clock,” Leach told a group, who had exited their tents and crowded in a corner of the plaza. Larry Wallace, a homeless activist with the Real Care Providers of Belvedere, documented her comments in a Facebook Live video.

Community activists and city officials reached an agreement Thursday to have all tents taken down by 10 a.m., said Belvedere Real Care Providers Network director and homeless activist Christina Flowers, who was present at the meeting.

They were asked to relocate to the I-83 underpass on Guilford Avenue where staff from the Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Public Works had set up resources to help them, said Monica Lewis, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office.

“We had individuals over there this morning who had been given access to transitional housing, and some individuals who have received job interviews with the Department of Public Works, so as we always do, we’re trying to provide services for those experiencing homelessness but we now want to make sure they can get out of this particular location so we can set up,” she said.

Lewis added that they are welcome to return on Sunday after the event, but “we do need to make sure that we are able to properly set up and carry out a program that supports the children here in Baltimore City.”

Many of those occupying the tents, though, did not want to move. “I ain’t going nowhere,” one said to Leach.

One representative from those staying in the tents was chosen to negotiate, Wallace said. Ultimately, they took the tents down.

Flowers said that Friday was a good day because “the demonstration brought about collaborative efforts, some city initiatives, some compromising with people, meeting them where they at. Basically a lot of the things that’s needed with our homeless individuals, so today definitely demonstrated some of that partnership with mayor’s services, individuals, people working together … it was good.”

Some of those occupying the tents, though, were upset.

Michael Webster has been experiencing homelessness for seven years on and off, he said. Sometimes he pays for hotel rooms, he said, but they are expensive — $100 to $200 a night. He works some odd jobs, he said, but still struggles. He hasn’t received food stamps in three years, he said.

Webster said he needs a housing voucher from the city. But, he doesn’t feel that they care.

“City do what the city want to do. And I hate saying it, but it’s true. If more people cared about situations, then we don’t have this problem,” Webster said.

He believes the city will ask people to move from the I-83 underpass at some point as well.

David Chambers, who was also living in a tent, agreed. He doesn’t believe anyone cares about people who are homeless.

“Nobody gives us a shot,” Chambers said. “We can’t even get our own mayor to come out and talk to us for five minutes, from 100 yards away, from a microphone — we’ll take that. Come out on the balcony and talk to us, at least we can see you and hear you. We feel like we got something to talk to you about.”

Chambers said he has been experiencing homelessness for about seven years. For almost three of those years, he was in a city program that allowed him to stay in a hotel. But he got kicked out after he was arrested in July, he said.

On Friday morning, he was able to talk to Leach, he said, and get a space at a shelter. So, “for me it’s a little different,” he said. But, he said, he’s thinking about everybody else who still needs help.

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