Stephanie Lovelace felt rushed when the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services came to Wyman Park Dell, where she had taken up in a tent alongside other unhoused people, and offered a hotel stay for her and her partner. They were told they could bring two totes of their belongings and the rest would be cleared out, she said.

The city put up signs in the park in recent weeks giving those living at the Dell notice that the park will be cleared March 6 and, for those who wanted it, the city would store their personal belongings and property for 30 days.

But it was unclear what was going where the day Lovelace was offered the hotel, and she was under the impression the rest of her stuff would be cleared much earlier than the March 6 date because of the urgency and demeanor of workers waiting to transport her.

“How can you pack your life in two bags?” Lovelace asked.

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Lovelace is among several people who’ve accepted help from the city and been moved into a hotel. While she says the transition was far from smooth, at least one other person said they saw getting housing as a chance to start fresh.

“Part of me wishes we had stayed there until the 6th, but we felt like we didn’t have a choice. We weren’t really given options,” Lovelace said.

Lovelace and her partner were able to bring their cat, Church, with them, but much of his things took up one of their totes. She ended up having to decide between memorabilia from her late father, items that belonged to her children and clothes she might need. The rest of her stuff also was not put in storage. Her partner walked to the park recently and found their campsite disheveled and hardly anything was salvageable because of last week’s rain.

There were still several tents pitched at the Dell Tuesday morning, but it’s unclear if they were left behind or if people are still living in them.

Jessica Dortch, a public information office with the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, said she’s trying to understand what could have happened in the communication to Lovelace about clearing the space and storage, especially since there is a protocol in place. The signs also clearly state that the area will no longer be used as an encampment site as of March 6.

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“We have not cleared this area ahead of schedule. We would not do that without notifying anyone,” Dortch said.

Dortch added that it is not the department’s intention to strip anyone of their personal belongings.

Lovelace confided in a nearby resident of the park who’s become a friend, Jeni Yamada, about feeling rushed out of the encampment. Yamada visited the park in the days following Lovelace’s departure and saw a couple of people walking off with a stroller and a bag of items. She took pictures and Lovelace confirmed that those were her belongings. Yamada also recognized a reusable bag she once brought to Lovelace with food and other items.

“It might be frustrating when a homeless person or couple is not completely packed up, but its not the same as when you’re in a house packing all your stuff up. I think they might have needed a little more support,” Yamada said.

Yamada has since written emails to city officials about how the process unfolded for Lovelace and cited the mention of “compassion” in a recent document the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services released about encampment resolution protocol.

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The protocol is described as a “trauma-informed and strategic approach to rehousing encampment residents.”

Lovelace doesn’t know what will happen next, aside from recently being told to get her housing application ready, which she had already started before coming to the hotel.

“They told us they were going to meet with us and give a rundown of everything, and nothing, nothing’s happened,” Lovelace said.

Staff at the hotels are providers funded by the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services and are supposed to engage clients for intake and to assess other needs they may have, according to Dortch.

A case manager then assists with a person’s journey to housing regardless of where they are in the process, Dortch added.

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But not everyone had similar experiences as Lovelace and her partner.

James O’Brien told The Baltimore Banner earlier this month that he was content with living in the park because he was still contemplating his next move in life. He moved to the area from Bowie and found himself in the park after a group he was staying with nearby was evicted. Once word spread about signs going up in the park, O’Brien went elsewhere to set up his tent. He heard by word of mouth about what the city was offering and decided to reach out for help.

He was placed in a hotel near South Baltimore and is currently looking for “more conventional employment” and ways to get back into school to study mechanical engineering.

“I finally felt the drive to pursue my original dreams in addition to some other ones and realized I had developed the vision necessary to do that,” O’Brien said.

“I have been homeless before in 2021, and I had forgotten how degrading it feels to have all your belongings inventoried,” he said about the process of checking into the hotel.

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O’Brien rents a storage unit, so he did not need the city to hold any of his property. He also has peace of mind because he still has his tent pitched somewhere in Baltimore, where he can return if things don’t work out.

Meanwhile, Lovelace and her partner aren’t sure how long they have at the hotel, but she recently found out some of her paperwork was invalid for a housing voucher.

“I just want to know, is my housing on hold? What is going on with it? No one will tell me what is going on with it,” Lovelace said.

This story will be updated.

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

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