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by Fern Shen2:50 pmMar 5, 20240

Baltimore razes an encampment two days before city said it would

Posted signs at Wyman Park said the area would be cleared on March 6, but heavy equipment crews arrived early and hauled away the homeless group’s tents, clothing and other possessions

Above: Crews on March 4 raze tents at Baltimore’s Wyman Park Dell encampment, two days before signs posted by city officials said it would be cleared. (Stephanie Lovelace)

The half-dozen signs posted at Wyman Park, where homeless people have been camping, announced Baltimore City’s deadline plainly:

“This area will be cleared on March 6, 2024,” meaning tomorrow or Wednesday.

Instead, on Monday, two days before the deadline, a city crew was there, plowing away tents and carting them off, along with clothing and other belongings in municipal trucks.

No explanation given as Baltimore sets date for Wyman Park encampment clearing (2/21/24)

The early arrival came as a shock to Stephanie Lovelace and her partner, who had been living for months at the park, located near the Baltimore Museum of Art and Johns Hopkins University.

The city had moved them hastily last week to one of the hotels along the Fallsway used to provide emergency shelter.

When her partner went back to Wyman Park yesterday afternoon to retrieve some items and check on a friend who was using their tent, he was amazed to see the encampment being destroyed.

He grabbed his cellphone and started shooting video.

“You could see our stuff. That pink thing – that was my jacket! And that – that was one of my kids’ toys!” Lovelace said in a tearful interview with The Brew.

“It feels like your heart’s being ripped out. It hurts,” she said. “We could have saved that stuff.”

City trucks cart away items from an encampment at Baltimore's Wyman Park. (@notrivia)

City trucks cart away items from an encampment at Baltimore’s Wyman Park. (@notrivia)

Lovelace, who has disabilities and is trying to get a housing voucher, expressed mixed feelings about their treatment by the city.

While the hot food promised at the hotel shelter has not yet materialized, it’s still a roof over their heads, she said. The couple had high praise for the kindness of the shelter manager.

Lovelace said they had come to trust and respect two staffers from the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services (MOHS), who had been talking to them off and on for weeks before the encampment clearing was ordered.

So how come, her partner asked MOHS staffers yesterday, their place was torn down and belongings hauled off two days ahead of schedule?

“They said they were sorry, but they were under a lot of pressure from above to get it done,” said Lovelace, who has her own theory about why the crews came early.

“They probably didn’t want a bunch of protesters there trying to stop it,” she said.

“Advocates might be there, and the city is going to have police there. They probably didn’t want a confrontation.”

City trucks haul off tents and other possessions from Wyman Park Dell. (Stephanie Lovelace)

Tents and other possessions are carted off from Wyman Park Dell by a parade of city dump trucks. (Stephanie Lovelace)

A “clean-up,” not a “razing”

Asked to explain why the encampment was cleared early, city officials said what happened yesterday was not a “razing,” but a “clean-up.”

The encampment “resolution” – as MOHS refers to what the signs warn about – is still scheduled to take place on March 6 – tomorrow.

“The clean-ups that took place were only a portion of the effort that focused on removing items that had been left by individuals who had already departed the site,” spokeswoman Jessica Dortch said in a written response to The Brew.

“As outlined in the Encampment Resolution Protocol, residents are free to leave the site at any time prior to the official resolution date,” Dortch continued.

“In accordance with the protocol, Public Works and Rec & Parks workers help maintain the cleanliness of the site by clearing litter and removing bulk items that have been identified by encampment residents as items they wish to discard and has been communicated to MOHS outreach teams,” she wrote.

“We’ve been working with those people for a long time”  – Mayor Brandon Scott’s reaction to the camp clearing.

Asked about the incident after last night’s mayoral candidates’ forum in Roland Park, Mayor Brandon Scott had a very brief answer before staff hustled him away.

“We’ve been working with those people for a long time,” he said.

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

Sign warning that the homeless encampment would be cleared on March 6. (Fern Shen)

“Everything was destroyed”

Lovelace said the city’s explanation is misleading.

When she and her partner and their cat were transported from the park to the hotel last week, they were told they could take two tote bags of belongings with them.

Everything else was going to be seized.

“We were told that trash trucks are waiting for you to leave,” she said. “But then we started getting phone calls and pics saying that our tent was still up.”

“My clothes and so many things are gone now. If we had the choice, we would have saved everything”  – Stephanie Lovelace.

“We had no way to get back down there to salvage anything. And by the time we did, everything was destroyed,” Lovelace said, adding that people were photographed rummaging through their belongings and carting things away.

“My clothes and so many things are gone now,” Lovelace said. “If we had the choice, we would have saved everything.”

The muddy remains of the Wyman Park encampment. (Fern Shen)

The muddy remains of the Wyman Park encampment yesterday. (Fern Shen)

“Government seizing property”

One advocate, who’s been trying to assist people living at the encampment, was surveying the scene yesterday, having arrived just after the heavy equipment had departed.

The trucks’ exit route was apparent from the muddy tire tracks in the grass leading out of the Wyman Park Dell.

Left behind were a scooter, several bikes, a bike pump and various objects half buried in the ground – a shoe, a padlock, a measuring tape, flip flops. In a tidy separate part of the encampment, two tents were still pitched.

“This is the government seizing people’s property! You have to give people due process,” fumed Carolyn Johnson, managing attorney for the Homeless Persons Representation Project.

“How do they know whose things are whose when they come in like this?” she said in disgust.

“And who determines what’s hazardous?” she wondered, referring to the part of the sign that says “non-hazardous personal belongings and personal property will be stored by the city for 30 days.”

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

How the tents in Wyman Park Dell looked two weeks ago. (Fern Shen)

With bicycles and some other items remaining in the park, it wasn’t clear why everything hadn’t been taken. (The crews left shortly after journalist Brandon Soderberg, who lives nearby, tweeted photos of them at work.)

A young man from Hampden named Jay spoke with The Brew as he pulled out one of the bikes and examined it.

“Maybe I’ll take this one,” he mused.

Walking around the “cleaned” encampment, taking in the muddy expanse of tire tracks, ripped-up grass and multiple new “No Trespassing” signs, Johnson said sadly:

“This is an expensive, ineffective and cruel way to address homelessness. Period.”

Carolyn Johnson, of Homeless Persons Representation Project, surveys the scene after an encampment is cleared at Baltimore's Wyman Park. (Fern Shen)

Carolyn Johnson, of Homeless Persons Representation Project, surveys the scene after the encampment is cleared. (Fern Shen)

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