David Cordish — a fabulously wealthy real estate developer in Baltimore, Maryland — thinks police should crack down on panhandling in the city.

Cordish penned a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun, arguing a homeless person’s recent stabbing of a woman visiting from Harford County, Maryland, is enough to ramp up enforcement of the city’s law banning panhandling.

“Baltimore City has a law that stipulates there is to be no panhandling of motorists in cars on the streets. The law is not enforced by the police,” Cordish wrote. “Nor do the politicians or The Sun encourage the enforcement of this law, and that is why a woman was murdered in cold blood.”

The real estate developer, who has ties to President Trump and a net worth exceeding $1 billion according to the Financial Times, cited an incident in which a woman was stabbed after giving money to a woman panhandling on a street corner as justification for cracking down on panhandling.

“Of course society should and could do more to cure the underlying problems of homelessness and mental health. Solving the problem will take years, if not decades,” Cordish wrote. “In the meantime, before heaven on earth reigns on our planet, society has the right for citizens not to be murdered in their cars waiting for a light to change.”

The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board warned the community against stigmatizing all homeless people as violent due to one outlier.

“Criminalizing homelessness won’t help the problem,” the Sun’s editorial board wrote. “It’s the homeless who are usually the victims, vulnerable to harassment and burglary, and not the predators.”

“Sure, it’s natural to be somewhat apprehensive, but what happened to Ms. Smith was not the norm,” the editorial continued. “Instead of letting our fears feed into bad stereotypes, why not renew the conversation about getting people off the streets and finding strategies that really work?”

It could be argued that real estate developers like Cordish are one of the biggest current drivers of homelessness. A 2018 report from real estate news site Inman found a direct correlation between rising home prices and rising homelessness in cities across the U.S. Inman cited data from housing site Zillow showing that as rents went up in the 25 largest metropolitan areas, so did homelessness.

This is also the case in David Cordish’s home city of Baltimore. The Baltimore-based Women’s Housing Coalition cited numbers from the mayor’s office showing that the number of people living on the city’s streets increased from 2,014 to 2,388 between 2012 and 2016. And data from Zillow shows that the median home price increased from approximately $75,000 in January of 2012 to a projected $122,000 by January of 2019.

panhandling
Rise in median home prices in Baltimore, Maryland, 2009-present (Data and chart by Zillow)

As the homeless population increases, so does their chances of death, according to an April 2018 report in The Washington Post. A combination of extreme weather, the opioid crisis, and high housing costs preventing homeless people from getting off the streets have led to an increase in homeless people dying on the streets. In Denver, Colorado, for example, the number of deaths of homeless people increased by 35 percent between 2016 and 2017. Homeless deaths increased by 25 percent in New Orleans, Louisiana in that same time period.

However, one solution to both homelessness and panhandling could be as simple as providing housing for the homeless. Utah reduced chronic homelessness (a subset of the homeless population defined as people who have lived on the streets for more than a year) by 91 percent over the course of a decade by implementing a program known as “Housing First.” The program provides housing for just $50/month of 30 percent of a person’s income — whichever is greater — and actually saves money in the long run.

The impetus behind Housing First is that it’s actually cheaper for the government to fund housing for the homeless rather than expend resources on the multiple emergency room visits and jail time that are common among the chronically homeless population, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates costs between $30,000 and $50,000 per person, per year.

At the macro level, ending homelessness nationally would cost an estimated $20 billion per year — around the same amount Americans spend each year on Christmas decorations, according to HuffPost.

 

Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.