City’s Expanded Homeless Outreach Efforts—Months in the Making—Take Hold as Winter Weather and Second COVID-19 Surge Set In

Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services has strategically grown capacity and resources to better meet needs of Baltimore’s most vulnerable residents

BALTIMORE, MD.—As the city issues its first winter shelter declaration of the season and braces for a second, potentially worse COVID-19 surge, the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services is strategically deploying federal COVID relief dollars to expand its outreach capacity to connect individuals experiencing homelessness to housing, shelter and critical resources.

This fall, the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services (MOHS) leveraged COVID relief funds to:

  • add six (6) fulltime staff to its Outreach and Emergency Services team
  • contract with the Franciscan Center to supplement its own street outreach services
  • contract for two shower trucks
  • launch a centralized hotline for individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness to access emergency shelter 

Collectively, these actions represent $1 million in new city-sponsored homeless outreach funds.

Additionally, MOHS has allocated a portion of its federal COVID relief funds to support the city’s just launched $30 million eviction prevention program aimed at keeping city residents in their homes. In March, before the onset of the pandemic, 10% of Baltimore renters were behind on their rent; by June that percentage had nearly tripled to 28%. 

“As the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, it is our responsibility to be the first responders for our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Amid the pandemic—which has increased risk of homelessness and risk of illness among those living in shelters and on the street—we have redoubled our efforts, and outreach is where that work starts,” says Tisha Edwards, Acting Director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services and Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success. “It is about building trusting relationships, and working with individuals to meet their unique health and housing needs.”

MOHS has grown its staff and tapped trusted partners to bolster its outreach efforts. The Franciscan Center has been well known for decades within the city’s homeless community, and a $70,000 contract with MOHS and a $10,000 contract with the Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success (MOCFS) have positioned the Franciscan Center to expand previous homeless outreach efforts. Through the MOHS contract the Franciscan Center is providing PPE and other resources at four encampments and one hotel; the MOCFS grant is funding meals at those sites and beyond. 

“We have neighbors who are homeless and low on hope, and it is our honor to partner with the city to serve them,” say Franciscan Center Executive Director Jeff Griffin. “We believe a meal is the first step to creating conversation and we want as many conversations as possible with our homeless neighbors. Through our new partnership with the city, we’re able to buy the food and supplies necessary to provide quality and nutritious meals for our neighbors. And as we have more interactions, we learn more about what’s needed.”

Those meals and conversations, Griffin says, have led to his staff distributing masks, hand sanitizer, hygiene kits and hand warmers across the sites it supports. They also are creating an opening, he says, to provide critical information about access to resources. “There is a lot of bad information that spreads very quickly and a lot of what we do is dispel that,” Griffin says.

The Franciscan Center’s outreach sites include the encampment at Guildford and Center streets under I-83. The encampment, which occupies a city-owned Department of Transportation lot, is the city’s largest and has historically been a focus of attention and source of controversy.

“There are no plans to disrupt any of the city’s encampments at this time,” Edwards says. “MOHS is committed to supporting our homeless neighbors that live in encampments across the city, including those residents at the Guilford encampment. The Franciscan Center began outreach there this week and was very well received." 

MOHS has also been a key partner in the city’s eviction prevention program, a multiagency homelessness prevention initiative administered by the Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success. Also as part of its COVID-19 response, MOHS has moved 400 individuals from homeless shelters into hotels to ensure their personal safety and committed $7.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to house at least 150 adult households.

“COVID-19 has made our work all the more urgent and we couldn’t do it without our many partners who are helping us expand our capacity and meet the growing need, especially the Continuum of Care, the Lived Experience Advisory Committee, and many others,” Edwards says. “With the collaboration of our partners, we will continue to support our most vulnerable neighbors as they work toward permanent housing.”

The centralized hotline for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness is 443-984-9540.

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