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City urging homeless to seek shelter, why some are refusing even in frigid cold

Posted at 5:56 PM, Dec 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-28 17:56:24-05

With the Code Blue, there's increased urgency for people to get indoors, including the homeless in Baltimore.

City officials say they had their biggest night on Wednesday. Fifty people came to the overflow shelter and still 300 beds were available. The Mayor's Office of Human Services Director Terry Hickey said the problem isn't having space, it's more changing perceptions so people choose to go to the shelters and feel safe.

“It's not safe. It's not safe at all, said Gregory Isaac who is among the 20 or so people who live below the Jones Falls Expressway. 

Like the frozen water bottles outside his tent, his resolve remains solid.

"It’s better than a shelter. It’s overcrowded and the staff treats you like you’re not a human being at all. The staff treats you like you’re nothing," said Isaac.

Isaac refuses to go to a shelter because he says he's been hurt at one before and he's not taking a chance again, especially with his disabled girlfriend. So, they plan to wait out the bone-chilling temperature in their tent, and hope they survive.

“Hand warmers, body warmers, and TLC that’s it. Just praying to God every night that we wake up in the morning and don’t freeze overnight and God’s been helping us for real,” Isaac said.

For Hickey, the challenge isn't having somewhere for Isaac and his loved one to go, it's convincing them to go.

“Our first priority is to get them inside, get them to shelter and a lot of people living in encampments they’re not comfortable with shelters for one reason or another they don’t want to go in. So, we’re trying to create alternative environments to get them in, reasons to get them to get warm for a little bit of time and then use that to get them into services and permanent housing,” Hickey said.

He and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh visited the encampment in Mount Vernon on Wednesday. They, along with outreach workers, checked on the people, persuaded them to head to a shelter at least for the time-being.

“What I want to emphasize is we open nontraditional facilities in the winter, so if somebody doesn’t want to go into what they see is a traditional shelter, we have a bus service at night. Folks should go to the Weinberg shelter, get a bus, if you get there by 6 o'clock we can get you into an emergency bed and you still have time for dinner and a shower,” said Hickey. “We visit with them daily to figure out what's going on and our big goal is permanent housing. Our goal today is people inside so they're safe.” 

Mayor Pugh added that that long-term goal may soon become reality.

“We have 300 new housings that have come on board next couple of months, next year. We just opened up 22 brand new facilities here in the City, there are all kinds of efforts to move this forward,” said Mayor Pugh.

If you ask Isaac, he'll say he's heard something like that before. However, homelessness isn't an easy problem to solve. There are different reasons why someone is homeless, and whether he and the City are doing everything they can or not, Isaac wants you to know this isn't the life he wants.

“We are fighting for housing. That’s what we’re here for, for housing. We’re not trying to get any handouts, we’re trying to get on our feet and get four walls and a roof so we can continue on our lives as stand-up citizens,” said Isaac.

Director Hickey also said they've met with the people who live in that encampment and their housing paperwork and applications are in the works.

Also, the Mayor is reminding everyone that if you see someone in distress call 9-1-1. The Code Blue remains in effect through January 2.