The negative publicity apparently prompted a damage-control effort on the part of the state Department of Human Resources communications office. According to an internal memo obtained by the Nose, the department's communications director, Norris West, was proud of his staff's ability to deflect continued negative media attention to the issue. West noted that, during the course of a week, the communications offices of the city Department of Social Services and the state Department of Human Resources managed to get WBAL TV's Stan Stovall and the Sun's Tom Pelton to do stories that focused on both agencies' positive messages, rather than on the complaints of detractors.
"We were able to defuse the protest and the story, to a large degree, and get out our message," the memo boasted. "All of this has been gratifying... We shall not rest. Although we have defused the issue of TEMHA for now, it may very well may resurface, especially with folks like the Baltimore mayor trying to stir the opposition."
When Stovall was contacted by the Nose, he did not express concern that he might have been used by the DHR's communications department.
But Pelton did express concern that the Department of Human Resources is more preoccupied with its image rather than the pending budget gap. "They appear very aggressive about trying to control the media, trying to control the press as if we're their ad agents," the Sun reporter said.
Kevin Lindamood, community relations director of the local nonprofit Health care for the Homeless, agreed. He said that the very idea that the Department of Human Resources would congratulate itself for squelching its opposition is anathematic to the agency's mission: to help those who need it the most. According to Lindamood, Human Resources officials saw the TEMHA shortfall coming and did nothing to stop it.
"This is the last remnant of Maryland's safety net," Lindamood said. "It's the weakest strand and below it is the street."
When the Nose contacted West, he declined to comment on the content of the memo, other than to say he felt it was important to get the department's message out. The message, he said, is that the dispossessed should still come in to get help applying for Social Security, disability, and food stamps, and that TEHMA benefits should be reinstated in July.
West said that the Department of Human Resources has little control over the TEMHA budget, and he assured the Nose that the state is working to plug the funding hole. The problem, West said, is that the number of applicants for the program has been much higher than the agency expected, about 1,700 more people per month than TEMHA funds could handle.
Human Resources deputy communications director Elyn Garret Jones said that the first time the department discussed the possibility of running short on funds was in August. The department had two options: It could either lower its payments to recipients of TEMHA or cap the number of applicants to the program. Lindamood and other advocates for the homeless rejected both options.
The Department of Human Resources, whose officials say many people receiving TEMHA assistance are not truly eligible for the program, has capped the program until July 1, unless a Feb. 26 Annapolis lobbying trip planned by homeless-advocacy groups can scare up a little extra money to make the program stretch.
by Brendan Coyne
It's been a chilly winter, one of the coldest in history for Baltimore. After January ice and snow storms, the city was virtually shut down. Schools closed for three days, few people could be seen walking the streets, and the normally aggressive parking enforcement patrols curtailed their activities, allowing the Nose's car to sit on North Charles Street from Monday until Thursday morning, unmolested and ticket-free. But the cold snap wasn't a breeze for everyone. According to the Associated Press, at least two Maryland residents died of hypothermia in the harsh weather, during which every radio and TV weather forecaster warned us all to stay indoors. It's unlikely that the city's homeless, the population hit hardest whenever the weather gets nasty, heard those warnings. To make matters worse, the homeless received frosty treatment from the Maryland Department of Human Resources and the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, which froze enrollment in the Transitional Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance (TEMHA) program on Jan. 12, right as the weather began to get ugly. According to homeless-advocacy groups, the decision to refuse new TEMHA applicants couldn't have come at a worse time. The state-funded program offers a meager $185 per month to childless, disabled adults who have no other source of income. But, according to Bonnie Rohr of Project PLASE (People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment), an organization that regularly deals with TEMHA recipients, the money helps keep people off the streets and gives some individuals a chance to turn their lives around. Rohr describes the TEMHA disbursement to the homeless as "crumbs." Her organization and others like it have been dealing with a steady decline in funding for the destitute over the years, but the situation became worse this year as state-budget projections indicated a $5 million shortfall in funds earmarked for the TEHMA program.