((UPDATED)) A group largely composed of students who had planned tonight to sleep in front of Baltimore City Hall to commemorate National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week were told to leave by Baltimore City Police and threatened with arrest, they said.
“So the city is not letting us sleep here. The police came and they were very forceful,” said Lisa Klingenmaier, an organizer of the event and a graduate student at University of Maryland. “This is very different from in years past. We were told it came from very high up” in city government.
Officials from the Mayor’s office could not be reached tonight for comment.
“This is so ironic. We allow 4,000 of our fellow Baltimore residents to be homeless every night but the city couldn’t allow a small group of us to be here in solidarity with them for one night,” said Klingenmaier, who has been on television and radio all week talking about homelessness.
Baltimore City Paper Columnist Lionel Foster has also been publicizing the event. He challenged Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to join the group on the sleep-out and wrote about the experience of approaching her at a $250-a-plate fundraiser for homelessness and getting a polite but non-committal response.
Tonight about 300 people had been gathered in War Memorial Plaza for the Bench is Not a Bed Sleep Out 2011 to talk about homelessness with advocates and people experiencing homelessness, organizers said.
The event was to last from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. As with a similar event held last year at the Inner Harbor, participants were invited to remain overnight to gain some insight into the lives of people who are homeless.
“The first cop came at 6 [p.m.] and the rest showed up at 7:15 [p.m.] when Occupy got here,” she said, noting that about 100 people from Occupy Baltimore came to the event. “That’s when they said we would be arrested if we stayed past our permit,” Klingenmaier said. Eventually eight police officers responded, she said.
The group had a permit, obtained though Councilman William H. Cole IV, to be there from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Klingenmaier said. Last year, when they had the same kind of permit at the Inner Harbor, at McKeldin Square, about 200 people attended and a subset of them slept out, she said.
Police advised them to leave but never forced them to go and eventually left them alone, Klingenmaier recalled. In 2007, the group slept in front of City Hal and then-Mayor Sheila Dixon intervened to allow them to stay, she said.
“Participants Were Shocked”
Klingenmaier said about 200 members of the original group tonight were area college students, about 50 were people experiencing homelessness, about 50 were advocates for the homeless.
“Participants were shocked” when the police came, she said, and many were discouraged and went home. About 60 people went to Occupy Baltimore, “where we were welcomed very warmly and spent the night,” Klingenmaier said.
Among the area schools that organized and participated in the event: University of Maryland Baltimore, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Johns Hopkins University, Towson University, Loyola University Maryland, Goucher College, the McDonough School and Morgan State University.
Asked why she thought the group was booted from in front of City Hall, she said it was related to the Occupy phenomenon.
“I think the city doesn’t want to permit this,” she said. “They’re afraid there’s going to be an epidemic of these social justice groups.”