How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with Baltimore Safe Haven and Project Waves)

This is the third part of a series. Go to Part 1 or Part 2.

Maryland’s official count of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 149 on Friday morning. That’s up from 57 on Tuesday. Baltimore City’s total jumped from one to 11 in that time. The state’s first coronavirus death happened in Prince George’s County on Wednesday, and multiple children in Maryland have been infected.

Governor Hogan has now reduced the legal limit on gatherings to 10 people, and has ordered all enclosed shopping spaces to close, except for essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies and banks.

Police call box 600The Baltimore Sun has live coronavirus updates here. City Council President Brandon Scott has assembled a list of COVID-19 resources. Extinction Rebellion Baltimore, a climate activist group, is hosting a “virtual grief circle” on Saturday evening for residents to share their feelings and support each other during the crisis. And for anyone who wants to volunteer to help their vulnerable neighbors, or ask for support, you can do so on the Baltimore Mutual Aid spreadsheet or at individual neighborhood support groups.

As always, please send me any community resources I can add to these stories.

Earlier this week I spoke with Mally Hatcher of Baltimore Safe Haven and Adam Bouhmad of Project Waves, again asking, How do we build community when we can’t be near each other? Here’s what they said…

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Jeff Thompson of HEBCAC: “There Just Is an Amazing Amount of Resilience” in East Baltimore

Read the follow-up to this story here.

I was trying to nail down the scope of what the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition (HEBCAC) does when I asked Deputy Directory Jeff Thompson if he saw the organization primarily as filling people’s needs or acting as an agent of change.

He didn’t think much of my distinction.

“We are agents of change,” he told me, “because we help people transform their lives.”

That is to say, helping East Baltimore residents beat addiction, secure housing and find work does fill needs. But it does much more that. It enables people to unlock their potential and become assets in their community.

HEBCAC was originally conceived in the 1990s as an umbrella group, encompassing 11 East Baltimore neighborhoods (and their neighborhood associations) stretching from the Hopkins East Baltimore campus to the borders of Baltimore Cemetery.


As funding sources and the city’s development priorities have changed over the years, HEBCAC’s role in the community has evolved. Relationships with local associations have become less formal, and the organization now focuses on providing social services and community development within its service area.

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Legalizing Drugs: Follow-Up with Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition

Last week I got a chance to speak with Tricia Christensen, the Legislative Advocacy Coordinator at Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition (BHRC), regarding my series on drug enforcement.

Some background: BHRC was formed by Baltimore-area students beginning in 2011 to educate the public about harm reduction, primarily through seminars and film screenings. So, for example, while we celebrate Billie Holiday with murals all over Baltimore,  BHRC tells people the story of how she was targeted and terrorized by Henry Anslinger’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics (which I didn’t get into in the series but have written about elsewhere), and what people can do to limit the harm that comes to stigmatized populations.

Today the organization has about 30 volunteers to supplement its small staff, and has expanded into areas beyond education. BHRC’s advocacy played a major role in the passage of Maryland’s “Good Samaritan” laws, which allow people to assist in emergency overdose situations without fearing prosecution for possession of drugs or paraphernalia, or for providing alcohol to minors.

BHRC was also the first non-governmental organization in Maryland to provide training to bystanders in overdose education and naloxone distribution (OEND). As Tricia says, users and the people close to them are the real first responders. And they are sometimes the difference between life and death before a professional arrives on the scene.

(Disclosure: Hearing Tricia say “naloxone” on the phone made me realize 1) I’m not sure if I had ever heard it said out loud before, and 2) I had spelled it wrong multiple times in my series. I’ve corrected it now.)

Regarding the connection between drug prohibition and violence, Tricia agrees that when dealers have no access to law enforcement, violence is their only (or easiest) recourse to resolve disputes. She pointed to a quote by then-Mayor Pugh I referenced in Part 2:

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