Update from CM Costello + CM Pinkett on Mt Royal Ave / North Ave Encampment

Update on Homeless Encampment at Mt Royal Ave / North Ave / I-83 Exit 6

Please note that this is a joint response from both Councilman Leon Pinkett (7th District, north of North Ave) and Councilman Eric Costello (11th District, south of North Ave (the subject of this response impacts residents of both districts in a significant manner).

Many of you have voiced recent concerns re: the safety, health, and sanitary issues associated with the growing homeless encampment at the intersection of Mt Royal Ave / North Ave / I-83 Exit 6. These concerns have been amplified in recent weeks as the encampment has continued to grow. At this point, we believe that due to the severity of issues associated with this site, the only reasonable course of action is for the City to lead extensive outreach services and develop a plan to help get the encampment residents off of the street.

First, we would like to provide a little bit of context on our observations and experience with two other homeless encampments in Baltimore City.

The MLK Blvd / W Franklin St / W Mulberry St / Route 40 encampment — after years of unsafe conditions for residents of the encampment, nuisances to the surrounding community in Heritage Crossing and NE Poppleton, and intensive planning efforts on the City’s end in conjunction with our homeless services providers, the City took action to find housing for the residents of this encampment and clear it out.

Having both participated in both the Bi-Monthly Homeless Encampment Task Force meetings and the planning meetings leading up to this action over a 2+ year period, we would point out that the issue is extremely complex and has to be treated surgically. For example, it can take months for experienced case workers to establish a relationship with individuals suffering homelessness and many times these individuals either don’t want to leave the encampment or don’t have the appropriate identification. Due to the recent ACLU lawsuit against the City along with Federal, State, and local regulations, it can be very time consuming and resource intensive to effectively clear an encampment out in a humane manner.

Initially, about two years ago, the City had installed a smaller fence surrounding the area. This previous action only reinforced what we already knew: clearing encampments does not address homelessness, the residents will only move to other areas, often in sight of the area that was cleared – which is what happened here.  Since that time, and after dozens of more planning meetings over the following year, the City did clear the encampment and was able to successfully place the individuals at this encampment in a variety of housing.

The Guilford St / Bath St / Fallsway encampment – this encampment has reached similar levels of severity of issues related to safety, health, and sanitation. It is slated to be cleared next week. More information on that is available in the statement below in quotes, from Terry Hickey, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services. Our hope is this will provide some additional context on how costly, time and resource intensive, and surgical it is to successfully execute an operation like this in a humane manner.

“Due to rapidly escalating health and safety concerns, the city has made the determination to clear the encampments along Guilford Avenue and smaller nearby encampments on Bath Street and Fallsway.  Notice signs are being posted on January 12th and the area will be cleared and thoroughly cleaned on January 26th.  All personal belongings must be removed prior to this date and items left behind will be safely stored as noted on the posted signs.  The affected areas will then be posted with no trespassing signs and temporary fencing. 

Mayor Pugh feels strongly that safe, stable permanent housing is the best solution to address homelessness in this city.  The reality, however, is that there is not currently capacity to provide immediate permanent housing to all who require it.  Accordingly, the city has entered into a partnership with a respected and experienced provider, Volunteers of America (VOA), to provide bridge housing for all current residents of the above-referenced encampments.  This housing will be available starting January 16th.

The goal of bridge housing is to provide adults living in these outdoor encampments with a safe residence while they transition to stable, permanent housing.  The VOA Bridge Housing facility will be a low barrier, comprehensive, 24/7 dormitory-style program with access to showers, bathrooms, laundry and dining facilities.  It will have access to storage of personal belongings as well as round the clock, elective case management and supportive services.  A shuttle service will be provided so that residents can access off-site services, jobs, etc.  

Outreach workers from the Mayor’s Office and other nonprofit agencies have been working with encampment residents for several weeks, completing coordinated access assessments and related paperwork in addition to advising residents of available options.  They will be present daily throughout the next two weeks to answer questions and navigate residents to bridge housing and other needed services.   

The Mayor’s Office of Human Services has consulted with the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Homeless Services agencies in other US cities to ensure best practices are being followed throughout this process.  The Mayor’s Office looks forward to working with the Continuum of Care, local providers and advocates and other city agencies to ensure the clearing of these encampments takes place with a high level of care, with a focus on the safety and dignity of the residents.  If you have any questions about this action, please let us know.  We are also open to comments and offers of additional resources for the impacted individuals.”

The Mt Royal Ave / North Ave / I-83 Exit 6 encampment – we agree there are significant safety, health, and sanitary issues. After discussing with or hearing from many of you, we have both had very extensive dialogue with Director Hickey, and he has agreed to the following action steps:

  1. starting next week his team will initiate an assessment and outreach period (during both daytime and evening hours);
  2. also starting next week, we will be reaching out to DPW to figure out the viability of a regular trash clean-up schedule at the site, similar to what we have had at other encampments in the past;
  3. Director Hickey and both of us will continue to talk throughout the assessment and outreach period;
  4. Bolton Hill Community Meeting – his team will be presenting at the next Mount Royal Improvement Association (MRIA) meeting, on Tue, Feb 6, at 8pm, at Memorial Episcopal Church, 1407 Bolton St, on the 2nd Floor;
  5. Reservoir Hill Community Meeting – his team will be presenting at the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC) meeting on Tue, Feb 25, at 6:30pm, at Beth Am Synagogue, 2501 Eutaw Pl;
  6. based on the assessment and outreach, he and his team will put together a written action plan;
  7. he and his team will come back to MRIA and RHIC to discuss this written action plan; and
  8. the City will begin to execute this plan.

In closing, we hear your concerns loud and clear, not only for the safety and welfare of the neighborhood, but for the residents of this encampment. We do not know how this is going to turn out, but will say that we will do everything humanly possible to work through this issue in a responsible manner with sense of urgency.

Intensive outreach, getting to know the residents and figuring out why they are in that location, and not in shelters, etc. and conducting a needs assessment for each resident is critical. If we start now, intensively working with the residents of this encampment, getting them into our system, conducting vulnerability assessments and housing applications, this will allow us to get folks out of there naturally and voluntarily — it just takes time.

This is not something that is going to happen over-night or even this month – it is going to take a great deal of time planning and executing to ensure it is effective and humane. We ask for your continued patience as we work through this process. We will provide subsequent updates as they become available.


Eric Costello + Leon Pinkett