Home | BaltimoreBrew.com

Homelessness and Housing

by Fern Shen12:01 pmFeb 21, 20240

No explanation given as Baltimore sets date for Wyman Park encampment clearing

Ahead of the latest eviction of homeless people, several have already set up camp elsewhere, while residents question the city’s posting of “No Trespassing” signs in a public park

Above: Rae Perrott with her dog Iggy at Baltimore’s Wyman Park Dell, where signs now warn an encampment (near the trees) is soon to be cleared. (Fern Shen)

Powerful messages that James O’Brien had no choice but to leave the place where he’d been living for the past year surrounded him.

“No trespassing” signs were recently posted around Baltimore’s Wyman Park, saying, “This area will be cleared on March 6, 2024.”

The phone number of the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services (MOHS) was included, together with the warning that “any violators will be subject to enforcement actions.”

“I wanted to leave before that happens,” O’Brien said, as he prepared to cycle away on his electric bike, its cargo carrier loaded with all of his belongings, including the tents he and a friend have been living in.

A green oasis near Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art, the park has been a favorite spot for families, strollers, dog walkers and in recent years, a place where people have pitched tents and lived.

One of them was the 29-year-old O’Brien, who struggled to make ends meet as a cashier at the Aldi’s supermarket in Rosedale, but shifted to making deliveries in the city for UberEats after he tired of pedaling nine miles on bike-unfriendly roads to get to his job as a cashier.

“It’s paid for itself several times over,” he said, patting the bike.

Wyman Park Dell encampment resident James O'Brien leaves ahead of city plans to evict people from the north Baltimore park in two weeks. (Fern Shen)

Wyman Park Dell encampment resident James O’Brien leaves ahead of city plans to evict people from the park. (Fern Shen)

MOHS outreach workers have come by, leaving business cards and numbers to call ahead of the eviction, but O’Brien was pretty sure they had nothing much to offer except possibly a stay in emergency shelter, an option he does not entertain.

“It’s a full-time job being homeless that way,” he said, preferring the freedom and flexibility of his current lifestyle.

“I haven’t heard of any positive experiences people have had dealing with the city.”

Asked where he is going, O’Brien said he and his friend have found another place to pitch their tents, a spot inside the city limits off Falls Road.

So saying, he strapped on his helmet and pedaled off.

Signs posted by city officials at Baltimore's Wyman Park, warning that individuals living will be forced out on March 6. (Fern Shen)

One of the notices posted at Wyman Park warning individuals living there that they will be forced out on March 6. (Fern Shen)

Condemned as Ineffective

Asked why, of all the encampments in the city, this one is being cleared, MOHS has not responded to the Brew’s query.

[UPDATE: Follow-up story with a response from MOHS, received after this story was published.]

Despite years of evicting the homeless, the city has never released an encampment clearing policy.

Responding to questions about the Wyman Park eviction, MOHS Director Ernestina Simmons has spoken of “a rubric” used to prioritize its actions, but has not provided a copy requested by The Brew.

Housing advocates have condemned encampment clearings as both cruel and ineffective, noting another one undertaken recently at Guilford and Mt. Royal Avenues with little notice.

With another encampment clearing looming, a plea to Mayor Scott (2/8/24)

Today the Board of Estimates approved $15.2 million in federal ARPA money to buy the Sleep Inn & Suites on North Front Street and the Holiday Inn Express on North Gay Street that jointly feature 132 beds.

But the new space, part of a promise Mayor Brandon Scott made three years ago, won’t come in time for those about to be turned out of Wyman Park.

Today Simmons told the board that the hotels will not be used for emergency shelter, but will be transitioned first into “temporary shelter” and then as “permanent supportive housing” run by a yet-undetermined community-based nonprofit.

While MOHS workers have been engaging with the half-dozen or so people living at Wyman Park, it does not appear the campers will be relocated to permanent affordable housing or have received Section 8 housing vouchers they qualified for.

“The city will say there is shelter space available. But when people call, the hotline they’re always told they’re full,” said Carolyn Johnson, managing attorney for Homeless Persons Representation Project.

James O'Brien, his belongings in tow, bikes away from Wyman Park Dell where he has been living for the past year. (Fern Shen)

James O’Brien, his belongings in tow, bikes away from Wyman Park Dell where he has been living for the last year. (Fern Shen)

Ambivalent Neighbor

In the Wyman Park Dell, none of the park users encountered on a recent afternoon had a problem with the tents pitched along the perimeter of green grass framed by wooded slopes.

One woman, however, was ambivalent.

“I don’t really feel strongly for or against them being here because there’s not too many people here now,” said Ensimma, who declined to give her last name. “But that could change.”

She said she moved to Baltimore from Washington, D.C., and complained that, starting from the time of the pandemic, a large number of people were living in the parks.

“This is not the purpose of parks,” she said, adding that, “of course, the underlying issue here is traumatic homelessness and lack of affordable housing.”

Many Charles Village residents have been supportive, offering the campers food, clothing and empathy when one of them reported in a social media post that the encampment had been harassed by someone using a drone.

Part of the Wyman Park encampment Baltimore officials plan to clear. At left, trash that residents have set aside ahead of the city action. (Fern Shen)

Part of the Wyman Park encampment. To the left, trash that the campers have set aside ahead of the city action. (Fern Shen)

Empathy and Support

Among the supporters is Rae Perrott, whose Doberman Pinscher, Iggy, was bounding around the Dell while she spoke with The Brew.

Perrot, who works at Jinji Chocolate in Waverly, said she and and her dog enjoy the park on a regular basis and have had nothing but pleasant interactions with the people living there.

She was disturbed, however, by the city’s multiple signs now ringing the Dell implying that anyone using this part of the park was trespassing.

“The first time I saw the signs I thought, ‘This feels icky,’” Perrott said.

“I’m in support of the encampment being here,” she said. “I know different groups do outreach to them. There should be resources to support them.”

Pondering the upcoming eviction date, she wondered what could be done to prevent it.

“How can we organize? Do a camp out or a tent pop-up?” she mused. “Just something to support them, to show our solidarity.”

Most Popular