As Baltimore’s main shelter remains closed – and activists press the city to protect vulnerable people during the pandemic and address homelessness by providing more permanent housing – agencies are publicizing their efforts to help.
One initiative is aimed at homeless people who lack a driver’s license or other identification necessary to gain access to housing assistance.
It simplifies the process of helping them obtain a state identification card, which typically begins with Motor Vehicle Administration staff getting the individual started, then directing them to visit the nearest MVA branch to get their photo taken and complete the process.
The MVA’s Outreach and Mobile Bus Units and staff from the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services have held three events at emergency shelters. The staff was able to take photos and complete the ID card process onsite for 60 people.
Mayor Brandon Scott lauded the program last week, saying it could be “life changing” for people experiencing homelessness, providing them with “a missing link in the effort to obtain housing and other benefits, and secure employment.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also praised the program “as a way to advance these services even under Covid-19 restrictions.”
Advocates for homeless people offered more qualified praise.
“A strong step in the right direction. . . but let’s not forget that lack of ID does not cause homelessness” – Lauren Siegel, UMB professor of social work.
“I think this partnership is a strong step in the right direction,” said Lauren Siegel, professor of social work at the University of Maryland Baltimore.
“But let’s not forget,” she added, “that lack of ID does not cause homelessness, nor does more accessible ID solve homelessness. Homelessness is due to a lack of municipal, state, federal and private investment in affordable housing.”
As for a broader strategy on homelessness, city officials point to a partnership announced last month to convert two recreation centers into winter emergency shelters.
The city has spent millions for rooms in six hotels and converting two public recreation centers for winter emergency shelter.
The two new overflow shelters are Greenmount Recreation Center, at 2304 Greenmount Avenue, and the Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center, at 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Scott has yet to appoint a permanent director for his office of homeless services. But the acting director, Tisha S. Edwards, said the mayor “has been in conversation with homeless service providers and other stakeholders in search of greater partnership around an anti-homelessness strategy.”
Since the pandemic, the city has transitioned 266 document-ready residents from shelters to permanent supportive housing, Edwards says.
Since late January, meanwhile, Health Care for the Homeless has been providing clients with the vaccine for Covid-19 at its location at 421 Fallsway.
The process is challenging, Catherine Fowler, a registered nurse who heads the clinic’s nursing team, told National Public Radio.
Patients must be managed in groups of 10, and when there are cancellations or no-shows, spare doses must quickly be redirected to other patients before the vaccine expires.
“You need to have a nimble system to then find more people and get those 10 doses into arms,” Fowler said, a sometimes difficult task given the communication and transportation hurdles for those without stable homes.
Still, serving a population particularly vulnerable to disease and often living in close quarters, the staff has found clients eager to protect themselves and those around them.
“We understand vaccine hesitancy,” tweeted Kevin Lindamood, president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless. “But what we’re seeing is vaccine enthusiasm.”
Health Care for the Homeless at 421 Fallsway is OPEN. The best and safest option is to call 410-837-5533 to make an appointment.
• Walk-in appointments are available Monday-Friday.
• Walk-ins should arrive before 2 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
• Walk-ins should arrive before 11 a.m. on Thursday.
• Closed Saturday and Sunday.