SANDTOWN’S SUPERSATURATED HOPELESSNESS: Community Leaders Oppose Pinkett’s “Homeless Festival” at Former School

Meeting planned for June 24th at Ames to discuss homeownership, community planning

(BALTIMORE – July 9, 2019) – Seventh district Baltimore City Councilman Leon Pinkett is attempting to join forces with a nonprofit group, (located in Northeast Baltimore), to bring an uninvited “Homeless Festival” to the former William Pinderhughes Elementary School in Sandtown on August 17th. However, community leaders bemoan this attempt for several reasons.

For one, Pinderhughes, located at 1200 N. Fremont, is not even in Pinkett’s district. It is actually in Councilman John Bullock’s district, the 9th. Pinkett represents the 7th district.

Secondly, Bullock, when contacted by Bmorenews, knew nothing about this celebration.

Thirdly, this is not the first time that Pinkett has done this. Last year, and without the community’s knowledge nor support, Pinkett held a similar event at the same location. And no, Bullock had no idea about that one either.

“I understand the frustration in the community due to lack of communication and clarity regarding the use of the building as well as this event,” stated Bullock.

Another issue is the fact that the homeless people found wandering Sandtown are white and not even from Sandtown. Residents are continually frustrated after making repeated calls to law enforcement.

“Ever since the Consent Decree was signed by former Mayor Catherine Pugh, we have been inundated with white addicts,” said Doni Glover, a Sandtown advocate with Sandtown-Winchester United.

“Every week, there is something on the news about the ‘Squeegee Kids’, typically whom are African American, on Baltimore street corners attempting to earn a dime. However, what has been consistently overlooked are all of these homeless white addicts who have flooded the black community since the Freddie Gray Riots. Before the Consent Decree, these people were immediately addressed by Baltimore Police as soon as they stepped on ‘The Avenue.’ Not anymore!”

Glover said that this is but another example of both white privilege and the broader institutional racism that thwarts progress in Baltimore. He added that one would think that black elected officials, like Pinkett, would be more in-tune with the community and its needs. Sandtown is 97% African American. Of those, not many are homeless.

“Tell Pinkett that if he wants to have a homeless celebration, have it is Reservoir Hill where he lives,” he said. “This isn’t his district. He does not live here nor does he have to deal with the madness after the festival. We want to encourage homeownership, not homelessness.”

Last April, there were at least a dozen fires surrounding the Pinderhughes homeless shelter in Sandtown, typically the result of homeless addicts. Three vacant houses adjacent to Glover’s home on North Carrollton Avenue were set ablaze; and the night before, a fire occurred directly across the street from Glover. In all, several properties were further destroyed and three dead bodies were found in or behind the affected properties.

“How much more neglect must we endure?”, Glover asked. “We’re not saying the people from the shelter were involved in the fires at all. We’re just pointing out how all of this poverty and addiction is being supersaturated in one already troubled community with seemingly no relief from the City of Baltimore. We want to know why it’s okay to bring all of this negativity literally to our backyards.”

Sandtown South Neighborhood Alliance President and co-founder Eric Stephenson is also opposed to a homeless celebration. When asked his thoughts, he replied, “Not if I have anything to do with it.”

For the past 4 years, Stephenson and his neighbors on North Carrollton and Lafayette have been toiling to improve the landscape and rehab properties in the southeast corner of Sandtown. Their efforts have included a community garden, the boarding up and re-boarding up of vacant properties and several cleanups.

“We already have a concentration of poverty in this area,” said Stephenson. “All we see is the City busing in people to Pinderhughes and dumping them there.”

Although the community voted against this shelter in 2016 when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was still mayor, former Mayor Catherine Pugh moved the “Tent City” debacle from in front of City Hall to Pinderhughes anyway. While Pugh said the shelter was only for three months, it is nearing three years. The end result has been constant calls to the shelter, including police and ambulances.

Further, the shelter is located directly across from an open-air drug market on N. Carlton Street and one block from the open-air drugs sold on Pennsylvania Avenue. Even worse, the shelter faces the 1100 block of Winchester, a completely vacant block that is a constant nuisance to the community.

1100 Winchester is completely vacant. Chad Hayes from the City’s Planning Department said that it is not yet ready for razing as tests must be done for lead and asbestos.

“The last thing we want to do is to celebrate homelessness,” Glover said. “This clearly demonstrates a failure of the Consent Decree. It has caused the cops to take a knee and consequently, addicts have bombarded our community around the clock with no reprieve. To boot, the City school board has closed a second elementary school here in Sandtown, that being Gilmor Elementary. What kind of message does this send to our community? Everybody knows that when you close a school, you kill a community.”

A Sandtown-Winchester community meeting is set for Wednesday, July 24, 2019 from 6 to 7:30 pm at Ames United Methodist Church at 617 Baker Street. Food from the Maryland Food Bank will be given away to residents.

“I didn’t realize this is not Pinkett’s district,” said Inez Robb. Robb, President of Western District Council, said she supports the community’s wishes. She added, “The people in the area should have been consulted first. If you’re talking about being transparent and engaged, then you have to involve the people.”

Councilman Pinkett’s response to our query about this homeless event goes as follows: “For the record, I don’t anticipate apologizing for bringing resources and activities to a community I represent. True, the building is across the street from District 7. So, of course, I spoke to the appropriate representative. This location is accessible to a significant number of people who live in Sandtown and the surrounding communities including the women and families who reside in the building. Would you rather me not do anything positive in Sandtown? Would you rather me not collaborate to bring resources? Would you rather me locate activities where the people who need them the most can’t access them?

Glover said, “Most of these homeless addicts, whom are white, are not from Sandtown. So, we don’t know what resources he can bring – other than the police. We are chasing homeless addicts out of our allies all throughout the day and night- even out of our allies. Such mindless chatter by Pinkett is no more than an election season stunt to attempt to show he is relevant. If this were Reservoir Hill, they would be arrested. If Pinkett wants to do something, tell him to expedite the razing of 1100 Winchester as we have been advocating for over the past three years – since he wants to help. You gotta listen to the people. Frankly, we are sick of people trying to think for us when they clearly have no clue of the magnitude of the problems we face. By the way, this is the same Pinkett who failed to show up for the 2019 Historic Pennsylvania Avenue Parade – in his district – which brought out thousands on June 8th. And yes, he was told well in advance about it. Yet, he is supposed to care about this community? Please!”