In Baltimore City’s war against its poor and mostly Black underclass, the Fallsway corridor represents one particularly violent front line. It’s hard to live outside or inside in this barren world of total institutions and asphalt parking lots. Yet many people stay in this area because it’s the only place they can find food, bathrooms, and sometimes a shower.
For years, the City has targeted clusters of people living outside on Fallsway. Municipal workers backed by police have confiscated tents, blankets, and other tools for survival. “No Camping” signs have been posted around largely empty areas beneath the Jones Falls Expressway (Interstate 83). This policy, enforced occasionally, has prevented full-scale camps from returning to these areas.
A recent wave of attacks seems intended to clear out those few who remain. The most prominent target is sliver of grass and mud lying between Fallsway and an I-83 onramp. Tucked into this small area, barely visible from the road, is a tent encampment inhabited by about sixteen people. The camp, now known to the internet as #Camp83, sits directly across the street from the City Jail.
Some individuals have camped here for years, struggling to live and accumulating some belongings. They have also gained a community, which functions more or less like a family. They share food and fight over whose turn it is to take out the trash. These simple human relationships do not emerge in the atomized life mandated by shelter bureaucracy.
The camp includes several couples. Romantic partners often gravitate towards encampments because they will be forcibly separated if they stay at a homeless shelter. Living outside isn’t easy but it provides people with a degree of autonomy not available to those who must wait in line for a shelter bed. Of course, in a system with hundreds of beds but thousands of homeless, reliable shelter is also a mathematical impossibility.
Camp 83 has enjoyed (or at least tolerated) an explosion of media coverage in the wake of Bonnie Lane’s report posted on February 14. WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden, already covering Word on the Street, picked up the story a week later. So did CityPaper. Two and a half weeks later, the camp made the front page of the Baltimore Sun.
A recently formed group called “Housing Our Neighbors” has been advocating for the camp. An organizing campaign has attracted many activists who oppose the City’s policies and want to support the camp. Nevertheless, most of its residents do not expect they will have place to stay after March 8.
Baltimore City government has been compelled to respond to all the publicity generated around the planned eviction. Olivia Farrow, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, issued an email which formally stated the City’s position. Farrow announced a new eviction date of March 8, clarified the City’s official reasons for eviction (“unsafe conditions”), and said that evictees would be provided with a storage locker for their belongings. (We recently received a tip that this storage locker will be in the distant Cherry Hill neighborhood.)
Inadequate as this response may have been, it represents a change from their usual policy of evicting people without warning and “storing” their belongings in a municipal dumpster. Homeless people are typically evicted from their temporary dwellings without any official acknowledgment whatsoever.
The City has an official plan to end homelessness by 2018. But its policies and track record tell a different story. (For more on the City’s ten-year “Journey Home” plan, find Word on the Street on a street near you. $1.00–cheap!) Baltimoreans are routinely forced from their homes because of gentrification land grabs. And numbers will only increase as a new federal austerity budget trickles down to workers as reductions to spending cause many paychecks to dwindle
Although recently proposed revisions to the Journey Home plan call for the City to prioritize affordable housing, the only real solution to homelessness, no concrete plans exist to actually increase available spaces.
Most of those who are homeless now and those who will be homeless soon are being pushed towards a limited range of outcomes: jail, disappearance, or death. Over one hundred Baltimoreans now die each year from homelessness–a rate which has doubled since 2009. Many more live through illness, addiction, or abuse. If Baltimore maintains its current trajectory, this genocidal crisis will only get worse.
— Leo Zimmermann & Damien Haussling