By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun
5:03 PM PST, March 6, 2013
As a Friday deadline approaches, advocates are working to find housing for the homeless men and women living at a Baltimore encampment set to be cleared.
Christina Flowers, president of Belvedere Homes, stopped by the site between Interstate 83 and the Fallsway on Wednesday with a promise to find housing for those who want it. She said her organization secured a three-bedroom house in the Harwood neighborhood to accommodate six of the roughly 18 men and women at the encampment.
"At this point, it's just about being able to move forward," said Flowers, whose organization on North Charles Street provides housing for those who are homeless, suffer from disabilities or have a mental illness. "We've got the building; now we need the sheets and dishes."
Flowers worked with other community advocates to identify open rooms for the camp residents, most of whom refused to go to a city emergency shelters for various reasons, including safety concerns.
The housing will be available permanently for those who want it, but they'll have to contribute money each month if they have income, such as disability benefits, Flowers said.
Richard Martin Sr., 62, said that after four years sleeping outdoors, he was ready for the opportunity. He planned to leave the encampment Wednesday evening with Flowers on one condition — that he could bring his guitar.
"I'm very excited," Martin said. "I never liked" living at the encampment. He said the cold didn't bother him, but the piles of trash did.
Venus Wiles, 42, and boyfriend Michael Spence, 47, planned to take one of the rooms in the house Flowers secured as soon as Flowers finds beds and housewares to fill it, likely by Thursday.
"This is absolutely a blessing," Wiles said. She and Spence said they were most excited to have access to hot showers whenever they wanted.
Olivia D. Farrow, director of the Mayor's Office of Human Services, said she's heard from groups working to find housing for the people at the encampment. The city decided to clear the camp because of safety concerns, including open fires and the potential for violence.
The site will be cleared at 8 a.m. Friday, although a resolution by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke calling for a postponement until all residents have housing is under review.
"We're really happy that the community is stepping forward to provide any support and resources that are available," Farrow said. "Of course, it's up to the people living in the encampment to make the decisions about the various opportunities available to them."
Antonia K. Fasanelli, director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore, said the city and its partners must do more to take care of at least 4,000 men, women and children without homes in Baltimore.
Fasanelli said the decision to clear the encampment raises awareness of the plight facing Baltimore's homeless.
"I am heartened by that," she said. "There are so many wonderful people in Baltimore who care so passionately about ending homelessness. It is wonderful to see their voices come through."
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