A Comprehensive, Dignified Bridge Solution to the Squeegee Situation

For the last few years, there has been ‘decision paralysis’ in addressing the polarizing issue of the squeegee situation. Our people are better than this and everyone should have the opportunity to work with dignity, especially our vulnerable populations.

It is completely unacceptable for us to continue to think it’s okay for young people to run through traffic in an attempt to make ends meet. They deserve a viable opportunity to earn income in a safe, lawful, and reasonable way, while at the same time learning the value of hard work and money.

The Smith Administration will create a temporary, but legitimate workforce – one that can attract squeegee workers and others who are struggling financially into a proper work environment. We will surround them with the wrap-around services to help graduate them out of this program and be self-sufficient, all while providing a legitimate paycheck.

The first layer of engagement for those on the corner should not be a Baltimore police officer. We should be relying on providing assistance and training, not law enforcement, beginning with outreach from Health & Human Services, Social Services, Workforce Development, City Schools, the Health Department, and the Office of African American Male Engagement.

We will reallocate $1,000,000 from the police department budget and seek additional philanthropic funds and investment from the business community, to launch a truly holistic “work with dignity” program to immediately assist the squeegee workers, and in the long-term, our homeless population.

The most critical aspects of this plan are the wrap-around services, accountability, follow-up, and analysis of the outcomes. These things ensure that the program is not only effective in the short-term but provides meaningful training and “soft skill education” for sustained success. But right away, it provides work – the kind of work Baltimore desperately needs, like tending to empty lots and cleaning up our streets.

As our program grows, we will also make it available as a re-entry opportunity. Indianapolis, IN has used a similar program for re-entry and has seen positive results. There are more than enough opportunities in our city to have a robust bridge program – one that serves as a link to other opportunities and not intended to be a long-term solution – that provides real ‘work with dignity’ for the most vulnerable of us.

My plan is based on a few programs that exist from around the country, an approach Baltimore must embrace to achieve the sustained success we all want. We can no longer be the “walled-off” city – we must be willing to find immediate and proven solutions, regardless of origin, and implement them.

The Smith Administration will build this program’s foundation on a program that originated out of Albuquerque, NM called, “There’s A Better Way”. There is a better way for the people of Baltimore – and it’s time for us to demand that kind of leadership.

We will:

  • Immediately establish the base program and collaborative initiatives;
  • Educate and market the initiative;
  • Establish full program transparency with a public website for accountability;
  • Erect signage in areas prone to panhandling/squeegeeing, with a “Text A Donation” number and the initiative’s website;
  • Directly focus on areas of the city to be cleaned – city-owned vacant homes are the responsibility of the government and cleaning the yards of these homes will be a priority;
  • Continue to connect individuals with services that lead to sustainable success: workforce development, education, mental health, drug treatment, social services, etc.;
  • Provide designated transportation options and meeting locations;
  • Focus on accountability, empathy, and outcomes;
  • Establish this program is a bridge to opportunity, not a permanent solution;
  • Provide additional ‘soft skill’ training;
  • Allow school-age youth to participate only during non-school hours; and
  • Connect participants to those who can serve as mentors and a source of guidance

Our approach will be a collaborative and community-based approach that will allow us to identify and isolate what is happening in the lives of the people we encounter that ultimately forces them out to the street.

Are they struggling or being bullied in school?

Are they hungry?

Are their parents absent or struggling with addiction?

Is their home life inadequate or dangerous?

Are they having trouble finding or keeping a job?

Have they just lost hope?

By determining the substantive, chronic issues they face, we can begin to show them the way out. We can prove to these young people that we are a nurturing, caring, and effective city, especially when it comes to providing services and opportunity. We must be teaching young people how to overcome adverse situations and learn the skills they need to be upstanding, productive members of society – and accountability is a part of that.

Right now, we’re not educating or nourishing them. If anything, they’ve been taught that there’s no way except the hustle and that their city won’t be there for them. This is a problem Baltimore’s leadership has allowed to spiral out of control.

And it’s just another of the many reasons so many in this city have lost faith and trust in their leaders. But once we restore that bond and show our neighbors a city government can be engaged and people-first, we can end the cycle of poverty, addiction, and struggle.

This is the type of city we all deserve, and this is the treatment these young people deserve. Baltimore can once again choose a prototypical politician and you’ll already know where we’ll be a year from now. Or we can decide to think differently, bring a new culture to City Hall, and once and for all, finally solve these systemic problems that have plagued us for far too long.