Advocating for our Guests: Three Bills We Support in 2016

January 27th, 2016

Paul’s Place, like many nonprofits, serves a population that is typically more significantly impacted by policy decisions than the general public, but far less involved in advocating around those same issues. In our 34 years of programming, Paul’s Place has gained expertise in service delivery and trust from our guests and community partners. For these reasons, we are making a strong effort in 2016 to be involved in advocacy with the Maryland General Assembly and have chosen three initiatives to lend our expertise, our human resources, and our support.

First, Maryland Hunger Solutions is spearheading the Invest in Maryland initiative to help raise the Food Stamp benefit from a minimum of $16 monthly to $30 monthly. One in eight Marylanders are food insecure, without reliable access to food. Using state and federal funding, this proposed bill will almost double the minimum benefit, which can have significant implications for Baltimore City residents accessing this service. Paul’s Place already helps individuals and families sign up for this important benefit and is excited to support Maryland Hunger Solutions and the coalition of providers that will be advocating on behalf of our guests.

Second, Paul’s Place is also working with the Baltimore Student Harm Reduction Coalition to expand Syringe Access Programs in Maryland. A syringe access program (SAP) is a public health and harm reduction intervention to provide clean hypodermic needles and other medical interventions to injection drug users. We know that a large portion of the 400 individuals entering our facility each day are suffering from addiction, and we know that overdose is the leading cause of death among injection drug users in Baltimore. Our support of this expansion lies in the facts: SAPs could save billions of dollars by reducing costs associated with overdose-related emergency room visits, Hepatitis C and HIV treatment, and drug-related legal costs. SAPs also provide opportunities for other social and medical interventions when drug users receive clean needles. Similar to our Hot Lunch program, we see the syringe access programs as an open door to many other services. For the health and wellness of our guests, it’s important that these programs are able to expand.

Third, in Baltimore, there are close to 7,000 evictions that occur each year – that’s 1 in 17 renter households. With fair market rent being $1,200 in our city, there are over 150,000 cases filed through rent court, leaving us with the 2nd highest eviction rate in the nation, just behind Detroit. Paul’s Place has helped our guests facing eviction for over 15 years with financial assistance and, more recently, with case management services to help prevent any financial crisis in their future. Too often, we see families on the brink of stability, but one bill or unplanned expense can turn their whole life around. A coalition of providers is hoping to help pass a bill that would require landlords to have a 14-day pre-file process before filing a case for an eviction. This two-week period would help in two ways: it would allow enough time for tenants to get lawyers and understand their rights, and it is enough time for another paycheck to hit the bank, giving tenants the opportunity to pay their rent. If passed, this bill would significantly reduce the number of families facing eviction and the amount of resources spent on this process.

Paul’s Place is excited to participate in these very important initiatives and give our guests a voice in the Maryland General Assembly. We are combining our programming expertise with knowledge gained from our guests’ experiences to participate in advocacy on a level we haven’t in the past. We look forward to sharing more on our leadership and advocacy efforts as the legislative session continues.

By Sadie Smith, Deputy Director