The Young administration has abandoned plans to return about 400 homeless residents, currently living in hotel rooms because of the Covid-19 pandemic, to city shelters in December.
“We will not be moving people back to the shelters,” said James Bentley II, spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, confirming Brew reporting on Monday that the administration hoped not to reopen emergency shelters over the winter.
The action comes amid a resurgence of virus infections, with the number of Covid cases increasing 332% in Baltimore from a month ago.
Bentley said the city will tap into FEMA funds to allow homeless people to stay in local hotels through March 31, 2021. Based on prior costs, the hotel rooms cost about $2.5 million a month.
With closely spaced beds and no social distancing, city shelters were closed last spring as a precaution against Covid spreading among a vulnerable population.
This is the second reversal by an administration whose homeless program, run by Children & Family Success Director Tisha Edwards, has come under criticism.
City Councilman Ryan Dorsey intervened to stop the encampment clearing; advocates said it would endanger people susceptible to the virus and potentially spread the contagion.
Officials said the city will let the campers, who have so far tested negative for the virus, stay as long as they follow social distancing guidelines.
The Young administration had also planned to move those living in hotels back to shelters, pleading the lack of federal funding after December 31.
But again facing criticism, including a march last Saturday demanding that shelters remain closed, the city found money to cover the hotel costs.
FEMA emergency funds will pay for the rooms through March 31, and no city money will be expended, according to Bentley.
During Saturday’s march, speakers pressed Young – and, by implication, Mayor-elect Brandon M. Scott – to do more to help people who are housing insecure during the pandemic, including providing permanent housing and halting evictions.
Today, the Board of Estimates allocated $641,000 to the T.I.M.E. Organization to supervise residents of the Pinderhughes Women’s Shelter (who now reside at the Fairfield Inn & Suites) through mid-2022.
Associated Catholic Charities was awarded $3.1 million to manage the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center (whose residents now occupy the Holiday Inn Express on Russell Street) through June 2021.
The two facilities, which together have 445 beds in congregate settings, are now under renovations to comply with CDC guidelines.
Improvements include better social distancing of beds and other facilities and more reliable hot-water and heating systems.
With the weather getting colder and the virus showing no sign of abating, Mayor Young is encouraging residents without shelter to contact homeless services for assistance.
“We are asking people who are living on the streets to accept shelter, and we can try to get them into a hotel room as well,” Bentley said.