While Hundreds Crowd Homeless Shelters, Baltimore City Demolishes a Block of Houses

Faced with a snowy weekend and an untimely BGE turnoff notice, I was extremely moved by a recent story in the Hamilton Spectator about the Code Blue Bus in Baltimore City. Code Blue is a non-profit organization who provides warmth, shelter, and resources for the homeless of Baltimore City. When the temperature dips into deadly territory, Code Blue picks up street dwellers and gives them somewhere safe and warm to stay for the night.

What is heartbreaking about the article is what is heartbreaking about every contact one might have with a homeless person, the realization that "that could be me". Its a realization that flies in the face of conventional wisdom about the homeless, that they are mostly drug addicts or alcoholics, schizophrenics or Alzheimer's sufferers, or are "just lazy". Even worse is the conventional wisdom that not only takes such statements to be true, but then supposes that for those reasons, the homeless are undeserving of, or beyond help.

Two stories jumped out at me:
Some people grumble about the food and the condition of the bathrooms and the lack of showering facilities.

Others, such as Michelle Holley, a 23-year-old single mother, are grateful.

Holley spends the days at her grandmother's and the nights here with her daughter, 3, and son, 1. She shares a room with several other women. Tonight, her children watch television as she relaxes on the cot.

"It's not the right way to live, for real. But it's OK. I'm trying to get my own place," she says.

"I'm grateful. A lot of people should feel blessed to have someplace to stay until they get themselves together."

The shelter helps the Health Department identify families that should be placed in emergency housing and put in contact with social-service agencies.

On a recent night, Stacey Mouzon, a 26-year-old mother of six, enters the shelter visibly scared.

Tears are streaming down her face as her children's backpacks are opened and examined.

Around her stand five of her children, ranging from a 2-year-old to a 13-year-old.

The Glover-Beys immediately find her a private room and special care.

Settled in later, still shaken, Mouzon says she came to the shelter because she was forced out of her apartment in November 2006 and since then has been moving around among family members and friends.

When the electricity at her aunt's place was cut off, she knew she had to find another place to stay, and so she walked to the shelter.

"I didn't know what it was going to be like," says Mouzon, still crying.

"I don't know where we'll go tomorrow morning"

The next day, Mouzon and her family are placed in emergency housing at a hotel, and they're assigned a case manager with the city's housing program.

This is where my stretch of a headline and stretch of a point come in. As many may already know, Baltimore demolished a whole block of historic row houses on Saturday.

Now, I am sure if the houses remained, they would not have priority for low income housing or any sort of program to place the newly homeless in affordable housing. Still, the City Council's extremely overzealous actions on behalf of the Developer to get these houses removed ASAP deserves some attention. Now, the recent articles about the matter simply say this about the Council's complicity in subverting the will of the public in favor of helping out a big developers:
The city granted Mercy a permit to demolish the homes in December after the City Council removed the structures from a list of notable properties in the central business district - a move that allowed the hospital to raze the buildings without a one-year deliberation process.

Indeed, Councilman Keiffer Mitchell was the one who wrote the amendment to de-list the buildings, and he is the one who slipped it into legislation so it wouldn't be questioned or even noticed.
Mercy and the preservation community faced off last fall when City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., at Mercy's request, pushed an amendment to an otherwise innocuous bill that removed the houses from a list of "notable" properties -- a designation that required a one-year waiting period before demolition.

Councilman Mitchell should be ashamed of himself, though I am sure the donations will help him during his run for Mayor. If justice was guaranteed, Mr. Mitchell would lose his bid for Mayor and hopefully his Council seat. His amendment and failure to change the name to reflect the policy within is a direct attempt to mislead the citizens of this city, and he has the balls to think about running for Mayor.

So why do I think these stories are related, beyond the facile observation that we are destroying homes when there is a homeless problem? They are connected because they show who our City Council is working for, and in a lot of cases, it ain't us. Keiffer Mitchell will step up and work hard behind the scenes for his buddies at Mercy Medical so they can get their new center. I want to know who in our City government is working hard behind the scenes to help Stacey Mouzon and her six children? It is disheartening that some Council members would break the law to help a big developer screw over the people. I want to know who is willing to break the law to try to help the poor in this city?

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