Baltimore is a city of staggeringly disappointing statistics: 11 percent official unemployment with several communities ravaged by real unemployment above 30 percent; 25 percent poverty which is 15 percent higher than the state of Maryland and 10 percent higher than the national poverty rate; approximately 4,000 homeless residents sleep outdoors or in shelters daily; and nearly 7,000 formerly incarcerated individuals return to beleaguered, under-resourced neighborhoods each year. We are a city with no shortage of citizens looking for stable, viable employment and housing.
But where are citizens to find employment opportunities, particularly the most distressed among them? And how does the city significantly reduce its homeless population?
D.C. is piloting a smart program focused on job training, skill development, employment and housing. Through a collaborative effort between disparate city agencies, D.C. is leveraging existing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to train and employ homeless and unemployed residents to rehabilitate vacant city properties. Participants of the program are then able to live in these properties at rent-controlled rates.
Baltimore can do the same—and more. Plagued by thousands of vacant properties, homelessness and underestimated unemployment, the city can no longer afford not to think creatively. What if the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, Maryland Department of Human Resources, local training providers and the nonprofit and philanthropic community were able to partner to scale an initiative already being accomplished by our neighboring city? What would Baltimore look like if these diverse stakeholders could collaborate to coordinate services and resources to put our homeless and unemployed to work, acquire skills, reduce homelessness and help rebuild the city’s housing stock?
If Baltimore is committed to addressing its homelessness epidemic, putting its residents to work and reversing decades of population loss, this is the sort of audacious thinking that is required.