Baltimore's Homeless Tent City
Occupy 2.0 for the Homeless and Racial Equality?
Remember the Occupy movement? A similar type of movement has sprung up on the doorsteps of Baltimore city hall. The encampment was planned and created by the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), the Baltimore Bloc, 300 gangsters, and other groups. Essentially the Tent City is an attempt to shed light on the plight of those experiencing homelessness as well as racism in Baltimore. As part of the tent city’s message, a list of demands that include a call for jobs, housing, and a program for felony record expungement has been presented to the city. The planners and leaders of the tent city hope to bring long term change to how Baltimore city handles those experiencing homeless within its boundaries.
Started on August 14th by SCLC, numerous tents sprung up filled with a number of individuals that have been homeless in the city. For the past week, the small encampment has grown with numerous supporters dropping off daily donations. A sizable white tent houses the core “administration” of the camp where various volunteers including many people living onsite help organize the daily workings of the site. For the most part, the responses from the community have been highly positive.
In many ways the tent city appears to be a model experience. Food is served daily from different groups including the Free Farm, water is constantly being donated, and there is a medical tent to help with first aid. Many of the tent residents have spent their first week cleaning up any trash and working to maintain a sense of community. Each person living there has their own story to share. Some are longtime residents of the streets, while others have been on the streets only for a short time. Aside from the constant donations, volunteers have stayed with the camp to help with any developing problems. Ongoing security has also been provided by members the 300 gangsters movement.
Many observers and planners alike are still amazed that the camp was allowed to stand past its first week. More than a few predicted that the city would raze the encampment on its first night. Baltimore has a number of laws that could be used to remove the tents with little notice. Occasional visitors and tourists walk through the area, taking pictures and look bewildered at the tents. A few have asked about the purpose of the camp. With the exception of several signs, there aren’t any major displays of political or social discourse there. For the tent city residents, it’s a place to have a temporary safe space.
Throughout Baltimore city there are tent cities with homeless residents. While there are shelters, transitional housing units, and services available, often the demand can exceed availability of services. Drivers can often see small tent encampments under bridges or overpasses when driving to and from work. While some decry their existence as a plight against humanity, others swear against their existence due to their appearance. However, for the most part, most simply ignore their existence with apathy. On occasion, the tent cities are torn down by city workers with bulldozers. To deal with this apathy, the planners of the Tent City hoped to provide a more visible community of people showing their humanity to the city at large.
Many residents of the camp have differences in political and personal views of their experiences there. One gentleman, residing in the camp, hoped that the city would just provide temporary housing for those residing in the tents. Another female resident wanted more long term assistance, not just short term “fixes.” At one meeting, more than a few tent city residents voiced concerns over whether the city would actually follow through if they provided services. Many residents appear ready to stay for the long haul if it’s needed.
Not everyone agrees with the idea of the encampment or the demands. Some city officials spoke off the record about the availability of services to the homeless as well as nearby shelters. Others believed that the residents were simply there to make a political statement and could be staying at transitional housing units throughout the city. Then there are those seeing the homeless residents as being used for political purposes. Others counter that many housing units are often filled up and that some services are too dispersed for everyone to access. While there is a chance that the city police could enforce charges against those staying in the tent city for potentially breaking different city ordinances, it’s more likely that they will simply be forcibly removed without charges by city officials. Or perhaps the residents will have their demands met and leave.
The future of the Tent City is relatively uncertain. Politically the encampment provides both a startling reminding of the plight of the homeless and brings a potentially embarrassing spotlight to the city government at its very doorsteps. For tourists, it shows another site of Baltimore away from the tourist hotspots of the Inner Harbor. Ultimately, the tent city reminds us of the humanity of those that society left behind. For the mayor, it’s an unavoidable reminder that even the city’s homeless population deserves attention. Unfortunately for her, the tent city residents could well stay for weeks or longer if needed.
Tent City in Baltimore: A Homeless CommunityClick thumbnail to view full-size
Further Reading: A “Tent City” outside City Hall to press the mayor on homelessness and more
- Pugh and Baltimore's new civil rights movement - Baltimore Sun
The newly-erected tent city is the physical manifestation of a larger problem that Ms. Pugh has wrestled with since she took office: what to do with this new, next phase of the civil rights movement?
- Baltimore Brew: Tent City
A “Tent City” outside City Hall to press the mayor on homelessness and more
WBAL-TV 11 Baltimore Video: Activists, homeless camp out for racial equality
- Video: Activists, homeless camp out for racial equality - YouTube
Activists are calling for action to address the root causes of poverty and crime in Baltimore. Many people gathered Monday night outside City Hall, calling f...