Jeremiah, who is 28 and used to work in landscaping, didn’t have anywhere to live during the frigid cold of last winter. So one night, when the shelters of Baltimore were full, he ducked into an alley near downtown Baltimore, where an abandoned house had a “For Sale” sign on it. The back door was open, so he let himself in and went to sleep.
There was gas and electricity but no water, and he kept the lights off so no one would see he was staying there. And no one seemed to mind. So he came back the next night and then the next, using the home to keep warm until spring came, although he’d turn off the gas at night since he was worried about leaks.
“They need to fix up these homes that we have here,” he said, sitting under a highway bridge in downtown Baltimore, a navy-blue hooded sweatshirt snugly covering his head. He now sleeps in a tent under the bridge, alongside dozens of other homeless people, some in wheelchairs, others who have come dragging mattresses or couches upon which to lay their heads. Loitering in a vacant home in Baltimore can get you arrested, and though he misses the warmth, Jeremiah didn't want to take the chance, so he moved out of his adopted home when the weather got warmer.
But one group in Baltimore is pushing to help others do officially what Jeremiah did on the fly: take vacant homes and turn them into affordable permanent housing for the homeless. Housing Our Neighbors, part of the Housing Is A Human Right Roundtable, is made up of labor activists, homeowners, and homeless people. The group is currently surveying Baltimore's McElderry Park neighborhood in order to present the city with a report on the number of vacant homes there. Representatives say the data will show that there are far more vacant homes in Baltimore than the city has previously acknowledged, and they argue that those homes should be turned into affordable housing.