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by Fern Shen3:06 pmFeb 22, 20240

FOLLOW-UP: City’s decision to clear encampment is based on a “rubric” it won’t disclose

The Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services says it has engaged people living at Baltimore’s Wyman Park for two years and “so far we’ve been able to house two households”

Above: Sign warning the Wyman Park Dell homeless encampment will be cleared by the city of Baltimore on March 6. (Fern Shen)

With the Wyman Park Dell encampment now set to be cleared by the city on March 6, officials were asked why, of the many places where people are living outdoors in Baltimore, this spot was singled out for eviction?

A spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services (MOHS) pointed to “encampment protocol” in effect since last month where “an Encampment Workgroup assesses and prioritizes each encampment based on a rubric.”

But that “rubric,” a scoring guide used to make the decision, will not be publicly released.

“The resolution assessment is a confidential document that is used internally to assess each individual encampment site on a case-by-case basis,” Jessica Dortch, MOHS public information officer, told The Brew.

The agency’s response came after publication of a story yesterday reporting that signs have been posted at the encampment – in a public park near the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Johns Hopkins University – saying that people will be forced to leave in two weeks.

MOHS’s stance has advocates, who regard encampment clearing as short-sighted, ineffective and inhumane, scratching their heads.

A reason should be offered for taking such a traumatic action, they say.

“With past encampment clearings, the city has at least given some ostensible explanation – like the threat of fires or crime or hygiene,” noted Carolyn Johnson, managing attorney of Homeless Persons Representation Project.

She said advocates have pressed the city for years to establish an encampment clearing policy and make it publicly known if it’s going to take these actions.

The tents in Wyman Park Dell where people have been living for the past year. (Fern Shen)

The tents in Wyman Park Dell where people have been living for more than a year. (Fern Shen)

Two Households Housed

The city’s action comes amid online complaints and debate about the half-dozen or so people who have pitched tents and lived in Wyman Park Dell off and on for years.

Dortch pointed to MOHS’s general attitude toward encampments: “Outdoor spaces are not intended to be used as dwellings.”

She also noted that city outreach teams “have been engaging the encampment residents at this site for over two years, with boosted engagement in the last 30 days.”

“Outdoor spaces are not intended to be used as dwellings”  – Jessica Dortch, MOHS.

She said all encampment residents are offered housing, storage and other supportive services, noting people may also “choose to self-resolve” by securing other accommodations for themselves.

“So far, we have been able to house two households at this site,” she said.

These individuals were connected to permanent housing months ago.

More recently, she said, one male was transported to a shelter, as was a couple. She said outreach workers hope to help more people find housing.

The benches and paths at Wyman Park Dell are popular features. (Fern Shen)

The benches and paths at Wyman Park Dell are popular features. (Fern Shen)

No Trespassing in a Public Park?

Some users of the Wyman Park Dell, a popular spot for walkers, joggers, dog-walkers and families, have complained that the large “No Trespassing” signs posted around its perimeter are an incongruous and disquieting presence.

Do the signs mean that anyone can be forced from the park as a trespasser?

“MOHS is not responsible for designating green spaces for public or private use,” Dortch wrote in response to this concern.

“Wyman Park Dell remains open and accessible to the public, and the signage is only related to encampments and residents residing at the park,” she said.

The signs warn that “violators will be subject to enforcement actions.”

Previous signage ahead of city encampment clearings has not made explicit references to law enforcement.

A sign Baltimore officials posted ahead of a 2018 homeless encampment clearing at Guilford Avenue. (Fern Shen)

A sign posted ahead of a 2018 homeless encampment clearing on Guilford Avenue near City Hall. (Fern Shen)

Asked if officers from the Baltimore Police Department will be present at the upcoming Wyman Park encampment clearing, Dortch confirmed that they will be.

“BPD conducts a safety assessment of the encampment area and provides ongoing monitoring post-resolution,” she said, adding:

“Officers will only be present on March 6 to enforce the encampment clearing and to provide mediation for all parties involved, if necessary. “

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