City Administrator Faith Leach touted Baltimore’s squeegee collaborative program at an international gathering of mayors, policymakers and consultants Thursday, positing it as one of Mayor Brandon Scott’s top achievements.
The collaborative, borne from months of discussions with squeegee workers, business leaders, social workers and city officials, has resulted in an 83% decline in squeegee-related calls for service, Leach said at the Bloomberg CityLab 2023 conference in Washington, D.C.
Large groups of squeegee workers — young people, mostly Black boys and young men, who cleaned motorists’ windshields in hopes of cash tips — were a regular presence for decades at the red lights of busy Baltimore intersections.
The perennial discussion of how City Hall should assist squeegee youth received renewed fervor in July 2022, after a 14-year-old squeegee worker shot and killed a man who confronted him and other workers with a baseball bat at a busy intersection. The teenager, now 16, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter this summer for the killing of Timothy Reynolds.
The program banned squeegeeing at six busy intersections throughout Baltimore and connected about 40 youths to jobs or school. Leach attributed the success of the 10-month-old program to a balance of outreach and enforcement.
Workers who continued to squeegee at the six intersections received two warnings before being issued a citation. Each warning came with an introduction to an outreach worker, who provided mentorship and connections to jobs or schools.
The citation comes with “more outreach,” Leach said. “This program is about getting to the root cause of what drives young people to corners, and not pushing them into yet another underground economy.”
Davion Hodges, a former squeegee youth who participated in the collaborative, said the program works because officials listened directly to workers “instead of just throwing ideas out there.”
“You got a picture of what [squeegee youth] are going through, how they survive every day, how they get their money, what they gotta go through,” he said.
Leach said the outreach team remains focused on engaging with workers and “finding out their ‘why.’”
“Our hope is that over time the economy will dry up,” the city administrator said. “But squeegee work is not going to disappear overnight.”
Scott adviser recommends a homicide data review board
Baltimore’s presence was felt on another panel about violence prevention in cities that featured Daniel Webster, a public health professor at the Johns Hopkins University and an adviser to Scott, and James Timpson, managing director of community violence initiatives at ROCA, a violence intervention program with City Hall contracts.
Asked how cities can better understand and respond to the gun violence epidemic, Webster replied that, while cities have gotten good at statistical modeling, there remains a lack of data.
“I really want to push that cities have something like a homicide data review board, where people can ask fundamental questions,” he said, such as: “Why, in Baltimore and D.C., is there such a dramatic frequency of more youths dying?”
Answering that question involves data, he said, but also convening communities, health experts and city officials.
Timpson said the same groups Webster said should sit on a homicide advisory board should also come together for difficult conversations about police support for community violence intervention groups.
“How do we work with the police in a way that protects our staff?” he asked. “A lot of violence intervention workers have been murdered over the last several years,” including Safe Streets workers Dante Barksdale, Kenyell Wilson and DaShawn McGrier.
$1 million public art grant
Bloomberg Philanthropies also announced at CityLab that Baltimore is one of eight cities to win a competitive $1 million public art grant.
Artist Derrick Adams’ “Inviting Light” will be installed in the Station North arts district, spanning the neighborhoods of Charles North, Barclay and Greenmount West. It will feature five streetlight installations, which will “project safety and respect for residents and local businesses in a neighborhood that has suffered from petty crime and neglect,” a news release said.
“The arts have an incredible power to inspire creativity and spark collaboration on some of the most pressing urban challenges,” Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, former New York City mayor and Johns Hopkins alumnus, said in a statement.
The project “will help foster community action on issues like public health, climate change, homelessness and more,” he said.