Advocates for the Poor Make Their Case to Senate Budget Panel

Advocates make their case before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Through tears, Athena Haniotis described her journey of homelessness to the members of the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Tuesday.

“I was a state employee working in the building right next to you in 2011,” she said. “I had a dramatic decline in my health, and I lost my job.”

Haniotis, now a disabled, self-described client, representative, advocate and board member at Health Care for the Homeless — a homelessness support services organization — recounted years of cyclical poverty beginning as a child that left her with few options.

“The reason I and others like myself continuously find ourselves in the revolving door of poverty and homelessness is directly attributed to the inability to find safe, affordable, stable and permanent housing,” she said.

Haniotis was speaking at a briefing for legislative budget-writers held by the Maryland Alliance for the Poor, where the conversation centered on homelessness as a systemic issue affecting not only adults but children as well.

The alliance, whose name will be changed to Marylanders Against Poverty, had members representing different advocacy organizations, including Health Care for the Homeless, Advocates for Children and Youth and Catholic Charities of Baltimore.

According to Alliance Co-Chair Stacey Jefferson, poverty rates in the state are up from where they were 30 years ago, with nearly half of impoverished residents having incomes below 50% that of the federal poverty level — a concept she described as “deep poverty.”

Jefferson said that individuals living in deep poverty earn around $6,000 annually.

“These households are not just struggling to meet basic needs, but they’re trying to determine which basic need to forgo altogether,” she said.

Advocates for Children and Youth’s Education Policy Director Shamoyia Gardiner spoke before the committee about the effect that homelessness has on minors in Maryland, citing adverse childhood experiences — also known as ACES — as being “disparately related to living in poverty,” further saying that housing instability is negatively impactful to physical and mental health.

Gardiner, who said she currently lives with educators, asserted that she sees the unique impacts of youth homelessness frequently.

“I cannot tell you how many times this school year, alone, my roommate has reached out to me asking if I knew anything about a youth homeless shelter that would take a child under the age of 18 who did not have access to an ID,” she said to the committee.

In an interview, Health Care for the Homeless’ Director of Public Policy Joanna Diamond cited a few different pieces of legislation that are in the works for this session that the group hopes to get behind. They include the Home Act, which would prevent landlords from discriminating based on a potential tenant’s source of income, like housing vouchers or alimony payments.

Diamond also mentioned an effort to clarify laws surrounding whether minors can give their consent to stay in shelters rather than relying on a parent or guardian to grant consent for them.

“We’re really hoping that passes because there is an absurd amount of unaccompanied homeless youth,” she said. “It’s just the reality, and we need to be able to give them shelter.”

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.