Lawyers for Homeless Persons, ACLU Decry Discriminatory
Denial of Shelter Beds to Homeless Women
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 25, 2011
BALTIMORE, MD - Deeply concerned that homeless women's lives are being endangered because of Baltimore City's discriminatory policy of providing overflow shelter beds only to men, the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland (ACLU) have written to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asking for immediate intervention to remedy the unlawful practice.
"It is incomprehensible that the City has chosen to provide overflow shelter space to homeless men and not homeless women," said Carolyn Johnson, managing attorney for the Homeless Persons Representation Project. "Homeless women who live on the streets are particularly vulnerable to victimization, including physical and sexual assault. The City's refusal to provide overflow shelter to women is shocking."
In July 2011, the City significantly reduced the number of shelter beds, from 350 to 250, when the 24-hour emergency shelter for single adults was relocated from 210 Guilford Avenue to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Housing Resource Center on Fallsway (the Center). In response to concerns about this reduction in beds and the hardships it would create, City officials repeatedly stated that the transition from the old shelter to the new shelter would not take place until a plan for additional overflow beds was in place. But the City set up a plan for overflow beds for men only. When the 175 beds for men at the Center are full, any additional men seeking shelter are transported by bus to the 100-bed overflow shelter. When the 75 beds for women at the Center are full, additional women seeking shelter are simply turned away to sleep in the streets.
The City's policy unlawfully discriminates against women in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment to the Maryland Constitution.
"Women are unlawfully being turned away from shelter to fend for themselves on the cold night streets," said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "The City is acting with disregard both for the safety of vulnerable women and for equal protection rights guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions."
Outrageously, women who have sought legal counsel to challenge the City's discrimination recently have been subjected to threats of blacklisting if they do not abandon their legal claims. Women have been told by staff members at the shelter that they will lose their beds and will be "blacklisted for life" if they speak with "the lawyers." Such conduct is utterly unacceptable and illegal.
Due to the great risk of harm our clients face every night this policy continues, the impending cold weather, and the retaliation by shelter staff, the organizations are asking the Mayor to intervene immediately "to remedy this unlawful practice, before it yields further tragic results."