Protesters block ramp onto I-83 in response to city plan to remove homeless encampment

Published on: October 06, 2022 9:02 PM EDT|Updated on: October 07, 2022 12:24 AM EDT

People standing in the road blocking traffic. One person is sitting in a chair. Tents are visible in the background.

People who have taken shelter in an encampment under the Jones Falls Expressway blocked traffic onto the highway at Gay Street for at least an hour Thursday afternoon to demand housing assistance from the city.

Tensions at the site, where as many as a couple dozen people have been staying since last week, began on Sunday, when farmers market vendors arrived at their usual spot under the expressway to find people sleeping in a collection of tents there.

Residents of the encampment received notices Thursday afternoon — pasted on the wide, painted pillars under the expressway — that the area is reserved under a permit and would be cleared on Friday.

“Move where? Where?” said Alonzo Coley, who has been homeless for two years, and sleeping under the highway since last week.

Howard Brown began sleeping in the encampment a couple days ago. He often gets kicked out of other regular sleeping spots nearby early in the morning, and hoped the encampment would be more stable. A couple of white plastic tables had been set up for donated food, a coffee maker and a microwave.

“You go somewhere else, they’ll move you out of there, so I ain’t moving,” said Brown, who said that he avoids homeless shelters because he doesn’t want to be around people who are addicted to drugs.

The city has placed several of the people at the encampment in temporary housing, according to Monica Lewis, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, and hopes to provide assistance to others, too.

“Our homeless services continues to engage with those who are gathered,” said Lewis, adding that, “It is also our hope that those individuals who are offered services will take us up on the services that we do offer.”

Whoever remained at the encampment on Friday will be removed, she said.

“They don’t have a license to carry out their demonstration, and those individuals who are vendors at the farmers market are licensed to be there,” Lewis said.

Protesters wanted the city to move more quickly spending the $90 million in federal funds allocated to the city for homeless services. City leaders have said they plan to buy two hotels and create a housing crisis fund.

Anthony Williams, a housing advocate who sits on the city’s Continuum of Care Board, blamed the city’s bureaucratic processes for the slow release of the funds. “If there are resources for the city, then they should give those resources to us, they should utilize those resources,” Williams said.

The protest comes about a month and a half after people set up tents outside City Hall to raise awareness about homelessness in the city. The tents were taken down two days after they were put up following negotiations and confrontations earlier between city officials and occupants of the tents.

Reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.