Baltimore shelters keep homeless women on the streets

In Baltimore, Maryland, residents lovingly refer to their stomping ground as Charm City. If you ask the women of the historic Chesapeake Bay community, however, they might say it’s nothing but the contrary.

After Baltimore took 100 beds out of the city’s homeless shelters, they’ve responded by opening up a new $8 million facility for the city’s impoverished — but women aren’t allowed in to this exclusive club. Homeless women in Charm City are saying it’s not so charming that men are being offered sleeping space while they are being forced to catch their zs beneath the trees and on the benches of Baltimore’s inner city.

The newest shelter has beds for 175 men and only 75 women, and while “overflow” shelters are offered up once the building is at capacity, those establishments only accommodate males. Previously the city offered a 24-hour shelter with capacity for 350, but now those that miss first call for bunks are left scrambling to go elsewhere. The men, that is. Accommodations exist for men in need of shelter once the main facility has jam-packed, but females are not as lucky.

Carolyn Johnson, managing attorney for the Homeless Persons Representation Project, tells The Baltimore Sun women have to line up as early as 2 p.m. to try to reserve a bed for the night before the quote of women is met and those left in the dark are forced back onto the streets.

“We have women who have histories of domestic violence or sexual assault, and they’re terrified to sleep outside,” she said. “We have women with very serious physical and mental disabilities. They can’t protect themselves and they’re very vulnerable.”

“Women are literally being left out in the cold,” Sonia Kumar of a local ACLU branch tells The Sun. “It’s so egregious it’s hard to believe.”

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union add that the hundreds of women being barred from facilities cannot even voice their complaints of sexism; according to the ACLU, homeless shelters are blacklisting the women who go and take their concerns to legal counsels. In response, a spokesperson for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tells The Sun that allegation will be investigated and addressed.

Meanwhile, around 700 women without homes search for beds in Baltimore every night. While men might be able to have their pick of the choosing — and defend themselves if stuck on the street — hundreds of women await help from advocates that attempt to put more bunks in shelters and make the city of Baltimore a little more charming for everyone.

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