On the weekend of May 15 and 16, 2021, residents experiencing homelessness and advocates occupied City Hall Park advocating for the unhoused and under-housed.
Mayor Michael O'Connor, Assistant Director for the Department of Housing and Human Services, Michele Ott and Executive Director of the Religious Coalition Nick Brown all responded to City Hall, listened to the protesters' concerns, and discussed housing resolutions for those in need.
In the week after the initial protest, the City's Department of Housing and Human Services and other partners, including The Religious Coalition, continued responding to and addressing available housing options and other immediate needs for those experiencing homelessness.
The residents, advocates, and others returned to City Hall Park for continued protests on Friday, May 21st. The City continued its focus of providing outreach, support, and other services, such as food, to each person in need.
Residents remained on City Hall property overnight and through Saturday for each of the protests. Overnight camping on public property is a violation of the City's camping ordinance. Additionally, the City Hall Park closes from 12 a.m.-5 a.m. each night. While many of the residents have been offered short or long-term housing options by the City or one of its partners, the City of Frederick recognizes and is empathetic that not all residents have wanted to access those housing options.
"Early in my term as mayor, I made housing needs across the income spectrum as a priority for my administration," said Mayor Michael O'Connor. "That is one reason I established the Department of Housing and Human Services. As a City, we are deeply committed to ensuring housing options for all residents, and we have explored many options with these residents to find housing solutions for them. We have also been in continuous contact with advocates to communicate the ordinances and rules that are in place."
On Saturday afternoon, Ramenta Cottrell, Director of the Department of Housing and Human Services, met with representatives from Global Necessity, a 501(c)(3) that links people experiencing homelessness to services and resources, and the protestors at City Hall to discuss their current needs, perspectives, and the services that they are currently receiving from The City of Frederick and local organizations.
Global Necessity, one of the protest organizers, cooperated with City staff and assisted with ending the demonstration. Of approximately 20 protestors present, many expressed that they were currently residing in some form of housing. They were encouraged to continue engaging with the local organizations for assistance in various areas, including mental health services, employment, and long-term housing. A handful of protestors present expressed that they were not experiencing homelessness, did not require assistance, and were present to support spreading awareness regarding critical issues.
Of the remaining residents, Director Cottrell encouraged them to continue pursuing services from the Community Action Agency (a division of The Department of Housing and Human Services) and the Religious Coalition.
Many of the protestors expressed that they did not intend on camping overnight, as they planned to return to the shelter or the homes of their friends and family. Director Cottrell expressed acknowledgment of their peaceful protest but encouraged those remaining to remove the tents and refrain from sleeping in the parks between 12 and 5.
"We are appreciative that many of the individuals protesting did so peacefully and without incident," said Director Cottrell. "The conversations we had with many of these individuals were productive and led to solutions. We continue to invite any individual who needs assistance to continue to work with us, our community partners, and our staff to ensure we can find appropriate housing or other services for them."
The City of Frederick and its partners remain committed to working with these residents, and all those with critical housing needs, to continue to improve our continuum of care services and offer aid to those most in need.