A look at banned squeegee zones in the first days of enforcement

Published on: January 23, 2023 5:45 PM EST|Updated on: January 25, 2023 3:09 PM EST

7/8/22—A squeegee worker cleans a windshield at the corner of E Lombard St. & President St.
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During evening rush hour one day in January after a ban on squeegeeing went into effect in certain areas of Baltimore, several young men appeared on President Street, spray bottles and squeegees in hand, weaving their way through cars, cleaning windshields and collecting cash from some drivers.

But not for long. Soon, a police officer ushered the group to the side of the road. Under a new enforcement plan, they were no longer able to work there.

“There’s no future in squeegeeing,” he told them. “We want you to be successful. We want you to think of your future.” He shook the boys’ hands, and they walked away.

Such warnings were issued beginning Jan. 10, as the city banned freelance window-washing at six high-traffic intersections. In a few weeks, people caught squeegeeing in the designated areas will receive citations on the third incident. Motorists who engage with the workers may also receive citations.

The ban is part of a series of recommendations released in November by the Squeegee Collaborative, a group of young people and business, government and community leaders convened by Mayor Brandon Scott in July, following a fatal shooting in which a teenage squeegee worker was charged. The recommendations also include connecting squeegee workers to jobs, education and other services.

Since the ban started, The Baltimore Banner has visited four of the six banned zones across the city at various times, and spoken with squeegee workers and city officials to ask: How is it going?

In some places, squeegee workers appear to have dwindled or disappeared. At others, some still work for tips. City officials said the plan is already making a difference, but that changing a culture will take time and consistency.

At the corner of President Street that same January evening, two squeegee workers waited for a red light as cars rushed by. They knew of the new enforcement, they said, but no one had made them leave.

“If they tell us to move, we will leave respectfully,” said one 18-year-old worker, who asked not to be identified due to the ban. But it would only be to avoid a warning or citation — he’d come back the next day, he said.

Both squeegee workers have jobs — one got a position at a July event hosted by the city — but continue to squeegee for extra money.

“I have a wife and a kid. I have to take care of my family,” the 18-year-old said, so every dollar counts.

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The other, 23, keeps washing car windows because: “I love money.”

Jobs are only a solution if the pay is enough that they don’t need other work, they agreed. Several other squeegee workers The Banner spoke with echoed the idea.

As the evening went on, more squeegee workers joined. At one point, a driver stopped at a red light said he was a police officer. “Get out of here,” he said. “You know the rules.”

“What’s your badge number?” the squeegee worker asked. No answer. “What’s your badge number?” he asked again more forcefully. The light turned green and the man quickly sped off.

“See what we have to deal with?” the squeegee worker asked.

On Jan. 12, squeegee workers on President Street could be seen talking to outreach workers, who have appeared consistently in banned zones since the enforcement began.

Nearby, three squeegee workers fled immediately from the corner of President and Pratt streets when they saw a police vehicle pull up.

Faith Leach, Deputy Mayor for Equity, Health and Human Services, speaks at Mayor Brandon Scott holds a Squeegee press conference.

Deputy Mayor of Equity, Health and Human Services Faith Leach said some squeegee workers may be hearing about the enforcement plan for the first time. Others, she said, may be “testing it out, to see if we’re going to do what we say we’re going to do.”

She said the plan is already “starting to disrupt the squeegee economy,” but that it “is not a magic wand that’s going to change 40 years of Baltimore culture. And this is deeply ingrained in our culture.”

She said it will require being consistent with engagement and enforcement, and adjusting as needed.

“What the community will be able to see from us,” she added, “is that we’re going to consistently have a BPD presence, we’ll have the outreach presence, and we will do all that we can, to be able to really slow down the squeegee economy, especially in those disallowed zones,” adding that the process will require “some level of grace.”

Some adjustments have already been made, Leach said.

Along three of the six banned zones, Leach said, there are now police vehicles stationed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., rather than rotating through every hour, as they do in the other zones.

To be able to deploy officers quickly, an internal communications system among outreach workers, the mayor’s office and BPD allows them to call in immediately if they see squeegee workers in a banned zone.

The changes are taking place in the winter to “get all the kinks out” before spring and summer, when there are more squeegee workers, she said.

As of 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Leach said, six warnings had been issued to squeegee workers.

Andrey Bundley, director of the Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement, said he and other outreach workers hope to reach squeegee workers before they encounter police.

Within the first two days of the ban, outreach workers took down information on about 18 squeegee workers, Bundley said, and nine of those had already come to his agency’s office to discuss options. More up-to-date numbers were not immediately available.

Some squeegee workers told The Banner they have been seeking alternatives jobs since the ban.

Ty Walker, 23, waited in line for a free haircut in preparation for job interviews. At the time, he was squeegeeing every day on President Street, he said, because it was the quickest way to make money.

“It’s over on the 10th, so I felt like I needed to get another job,” Walker said.

A 14-year-old girl, who had been squeegeeing for around two months, also wanted to find another job, but said it was tough because of her age.

The Banner talked with Talon Henriques, 23, during a job fair in July. In an interview with The Banner Friday, he said he is still unemployed, but he would not consider squeegeeing again in part because of the new ban.

“It’s over,” he said. “I don’t want to get locked up.”

But he’s not happy about the enforcement policy. “It’s stopped us from making money,” he said. “That’s a big problem. That’s the only thing we’re out here for.”

According to a Jan. 10 memo issued by Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, officers will begin issuing citations on the third incident, rather than warnings, on Feb. 10.

After issuing a warning, officers are instructed to call the Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement to provide the squeegee worker’s information, according to the memo.

For squeegee workers under age 18, officers are instructed to “attempt to de-escalate and persuade the youth of the danger of their actions.” If that fails, the memo states, an officer can take the child to a parent or guardian, or if they can’t find them, to the Department of Social Services or Child Protective Services.

In late morning of Jan. 13, two squeegee workers who were cleaning windshields near M&T Bank Stadium said that even though their spot is not in a banned zone, they were seeing less competition.

Shamonté Jones, 22, and Charles Lee, 19, said they have made more money, because there were fewer squeegee workers where Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard meets I-395 and Light and Conway Streets near Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

But they have also been more careful, Lee said, because they don’t want their area banned.

Four days into the ban, a squeegee worker appeared at a banned zone on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Eddie Smith, 42, knew about the ban; a police officer had stopped by the day before to tell him. He returned, he said, to make extra money on days off from work at a moving company. He’s willing to take the risk.

“I got four kids to take care of,” he said.