U.S. Vice Presidential Candidate Sleeps on the Streets of Baltimore

Ajamu Baraka stands speaking into a microphone in front of a crowd at night.

Photo courtesy of Ajamu Baraka

Green Party vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka joined two Maryland Green Party officials and several dozen homeless Baltimore residents at a tent encampment for an overnight sleep out in September.
Joshua Harris, the Green Party’s mayoral candidate in Baltimore, invited Baraka and state senate candidate Margaret Flowers to spend the night across the street from Health Care for the Homeless, a medical center for unhoused residents in the Mount Vernon neighborhood near downtown Baltimore. 
“Even though I’ve worked at a policy level, one night really deepened my understanding of the issue,” Baraka said in an interview with Street Sense. “Several people talked about the struggle of lining up at the shelter, about how hard it is to get a spot and the need to line up at certain times to get entrance.” 
The nearby Weinberg Housing and Resource Shelter, Baltimore’s largest homeless shelter, provides beds and housing for 275 people every night, but up to 200 more people won’t receive a bed on any given night, according to the shelter’s website. 
Baraka agreed to come to Baltimore because he believes the city exhibits a lot of the issues that exist across the country and highlights contradictions between the rhetoric and actual legislation of Democratic Party officials. “The municipal government there is cutting back on services for homeless people,” Baraka said. “These draconian cuts are being implemented not by Republicans or white folk, but by people of color in the Democratic party.” 
For the 2017 fiscal year, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, attempted to cut $4.2 million in after-school programs for low-income and homeless students. After a standoff with City Council, Rawlings-Blake restored funding and proposed cuts in other areas. 
The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development also announced $3.8 million cut  in subsidies for 19 of Baltimore’s 21 faith-based and nonprofit organizations serving Baltimore’s homeless population, according to a May press release.  
Harris said he believed Baltimore could “end homelessness” in a Sept. 14 Facebook Live video he filmed after the sleep out.  “We have more houses without people than people without houses,” Harris said. 
Kwame Rose, a Baltimore activist known for confronting Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera during the 2015 Freddie Gray riots, also participated in the sleep out. He said Baraka’s participation was not a political move. 
“It’s not about winning for him,” Rose said in an interview with Street Sense. “It’s about organizing, it’s about signaling that there are people who care.” 
Rose said he didn’t think the Green Party or any other party adequately addressed the issues facing the Black community. Yet, Rose said where other politicians have pandered, Baraka showed a true desire to understand and internalize the experiences of the Black community and the unhoused. 
“He didn’t talk about how he keeps hot sauce in his back pocket,” Rose said. “He literally slept on the sidewalks with dozens of homeless individuals.” 
Baraka has a long history of activism and advocacy related to homelessness and human rights. In 2004 he co-founded the U.S. Humans Rights Network, which has united several hundred activist organizations and protested U.S. domestic human rights violations regarding poverty and race relations at the United Nations. He served as USHRN’s founding executive director until 2011. 
However, Baraka stressed the need for electoral power to initiate systemic change. 
“The Green Party is the only party that is seriously interested in addressing the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist economy that is homelessness,” Baraka said. “We have to establish electoral power if we want to change the system.”

Issues |Civil Rights|Housing

Region |Maryland

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