Faced with a December 31 cutoff of federal dollars that currently pay for hotel rooms, the Young administration is looking for other funding sources to keep the homeless from returning to congregate shelters or to the streets.
“We are in the process of extending the contracts with the hotels,” James Bentley II, spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said tonight, responding to questions about whether the city will extend the hotel stays over the winter.
Previously, the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services said it was revamping its shelters to provide for better social distancing and planned to reopen the facilities next month.
“Our preference is to keep people in hotels, and we are talking to nonprofits and others to find ways to keep the program going,” Bentley now says.
The Young administration has come under increasing pressure, including from marchers who rallied in front of City Hall on Saturday, to halt the plan to return people to congregate housing.
“Like a death sentence”
One major issue is the safety of people in shelters as Covid cases surge across the city, with test positivity rates increasing to 7.1% and deaths rising by 175% from the daily average of a month ago.
Last spring, homeless women at the Pinderhughes Shelter in West Baltimore were transferred to the Fairfield Suites in downtown Baltimore, shortly after the shelter’s operator was terminated for unsanitary conditions, including mold and reported urine and feces on the floor.
The women do not want to return to the shelter, according to Koumbo Yasin. “At the hotel, you can bring your own meals, you have space and don’t have to worry about your possessions being stolen,” the former resident told members of the City Council last month.
“You can’t social distance at a shelter, which means you have to wear a mask at all times. Going back to any shelter during a pandemic is like a death sentence,” she said.
$68 Million in Homeless Aid
The city’s largest shelter, the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center, has been closed since spring, its clients roomed at the Holiday Inn Express next to the Horseshoe Casino on Russell Street.
Other hotels paid with federal CARES Act money to house the homeless include: Sleep Inn & Suites on the Fallsway, a Days Inn facility in Woodlawn, and a Quality Inn motel off of Liberty Road and the Beltway.
In addition, the city has set up a patient triage center at the venerable Lord Baltimore Hotel, which allows Covid-positive residents, including the homeless, to quarantine and receive medical care for low-level symptoms.
Housing the homeless in hotels has cost the city roughly $2.5 million a month. Earlier this year, Baltimore received $15.7 million in federal HUD money to prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus.
Separate from CARES Act money, the Emergency Solutions Grant Program is aimed specifically at the homeless and the formerly homeless receiving housing aid.
Overall, the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services administers $68 million in yearly federal, state and local funds, according to Emergency Services Coordinator Angela McCauley, and supervises nine privately-run homeless shelters.