2 hotels unveiled as homeless shelters: ‘Something like this has never been done in Baltimore’

Baltimore City has transformed two hotels that it purchased this year, the Holiday Inn Express and the Sleep Inn & Suites, into temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness.

Mayor Brandon Scott held the ribbon-cutting Monday at the Sleep Inn in downtown Baltimore alongside U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development acting Secretary Adrianne Todman, Secretary for the Governor’s Office of Housing and Community Development Jacob Day, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services Ernestina Simmons and other officials.

“We are here today to take a significant step in Baltimore’s fight to end homelessness,” Scott said. “Something like this has never been done in Baltimore before. Anyone who has grown up in Baltimore at any time can tell you that the city has faced long-ongoing issues with homelessness.”

The city bought the hotels and the parking lot between them for $15.2 million, in a deal approved by the Board of Estimates in February. Funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act covered the cost.

City Council President Nick Mosby, routinely an opponent of ARPA-related items that come before the board, voted against the purchase. He did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

Simmons said Monday that 378 families have stayed at the hotels so far. With capacity for 175 people, the Sleep Inn is being used as flexible housing for families and couples, the city homelessness office said in a email Monday. Rooms at the Holiday Inn serve men with the capacity to provide emergency shelter to 120.

Emergency shelters are designed to have lower barriers to entry and address more immediate needs than permanent housing.

The shelters also provide resources such as case management aimed at long-term self-sufficiency, the office said. Although there’s no length-of-stay policy, the office works closely with clients to connect them with additional housing programs and other supports.

Simmons said the goal is to get to 800 shelter beds and convert the hotels into permanent supportive housing. She said the office expects to announce a call for permanent housing applicants in the next couple of weeks.

“We can address homelessness with housing,” said Dan McCarthy, co-chair of the city’s Continuum of Care homelessness program, at Monday’s event. “Housing is health care, and I believe this site will produce housing that will benefit all of Baltimore to make us a healthier city.”

Baltimore City began its search for hotel space to use as shelters three years ago during the height of the coronavirus pandemic after experimenting with the hotel housing model for homeless residents.

Hundreds of people experiencing homelessness were sheltered in hotels during the pandemic while the city repeatedly extended lease agreements with the vendors.

“The pandemic exposed more of what we already knew to be true,” Scott said Monday. “We are in the midst of a nationwide housing crisis, and there are some gaps in the system that impact the access we can provide to people in need of immediate shelter.”

In February 2022, Scott said that about half of $90.4 million ARPA funds allocated toward emergency housing and other housing assistance would go to the purchase of two hotels. The city reviewed proposals from interested hotel owners soon after. However, it would take another two years for the concept to become a reality.

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