The squeegers are back at Mt. Royal Avenue freeway exit

picture of a hand holding a squegee and spray bottle
Photo by Fox 45 News

Only six months after it was declared  a “disallowed zone” in which harassing drivers and squeegeeing car windows would be no longer tolerated, a cadre of young men, squeegees in hand, are back working the traffic regularly at the I-83 south exit ramp to Mt. Royal Avenue.

A couple of weeks after a 15-year-old boy from a group of squeegers downtown was convicted of manslaughter for shooting a man, the mayor issued a press release proclaiming that his soft-touch plan to reduce these interactions at busy corners was working. He reported an 81 percent decrease in reported instances of criminal misbehavior by the squeegers. He called his program to reduce these activities “transformative and sustainable.”

But BHCA Safety and Security Committee Chairman James L. Prost asked about the mayor’s claim at a meeting with the police department’s Western District commander that same week. His report:

“Here is what’s going on: BPD, 911and 311 are involved only in a coordinating role. The squeegee issue is handled under The Squeegee Initiative and the Squeegee Initiative Action Plan, which is managed by the Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement (MOAAME).

“When a call or complaint is received regarding squeegeeing, the information is directed to MOAAME and one of now 16 outreach workers is dispatched to engage with the squeegee person. MOAAME tracks the number of calls/ complaints and touts the dramatic reduction in calls/complaints.

“The outreach person follows a specific protocol. The outreach person may have previously spoken to the squeeger, as outreach is a major part of the entire program. The squeeger would be encouraged not to work in that area and pursue other available programs under the Squeegee Initiative: education, employment, entrepreneurship, etc.

“Continuing to squeegee is subject to first a warning and then a citation, which likely includes community service requirements.” (But according to media reports, few citations have been adjudicated.)

“There is also a safety protocol, which relates to keeping the motorist and squeeger safe. This seems to consist primarily of planned traffic calming. The understaffed BPD rarely gets involved unless there is property damage or violent crime.”

According to the mayor’s press release “we have not only seen a tremendous decrease in squeegee activity in our disallowed zones, but we have connected former squeegee workers with education, employment, and other resources.” The release said they made contact with about 150 squeegers and were able to place 40 of them in jobs.

There are, of course, thousands of young men in Baltimore who do not squeegee and thus are not spoken to by outreach workers and offered mentors and jobs. Baltimore has had a law, largely unenforced for decades, forbidding begging and squeegee solicitations on city streets.

–Bill Hamilton