CUMBERLAND, Md. — A former city police officer raised concerns Tuesday about what he sees as a growing problem of homelessness and vagrancy in the city, particularly at the headquarters tourist attraction. of George Washington.
David Biser, a former member of the Cumberland Police Department, spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s mayor and council meeting. Biser also showed photographs of some of the homeless scenes he witnessed downtown.
“I am retired from the municipal police, but I still roam the streets,” Biser said. “I see more and more wanderers.”
He spoke of an incident he saw at the pedestrian underpass that crosses under Queen City Drive and the downtown CSX train tracks.
“It was at the metro a few days ago,” Biser said. “He had his whole supper plate spread out at the top of the subway, shoes off, sleeping at the top of the steps. He didn’t even move when I passed by twice and took pictures.
“A couple, a man and a woman, live in a tent by the river.”
Biser said he investigated ways to address the problem, including solutions developed by the US Interagency on Homelessness. He claimed that a program called “Housing First” had been successful.
“So, before this got out of control, I came across a project that I’d like you to consider,” Biser said. “Basically, when a surplus property (is acquired by the city), you have a task force to remodel and redo the house. After that, you offer it to these (homeless) people basically for free. But , there are They work with social services and family crises to straighten out their lives and help them.
Biser said some cities, including Salt Lake City, Utah, and Columbus, Ohio, have had success with the program. “Then they have a place to go and rest their heads. They don’t sleep on the subway or in a tent by the river.”
Biser is also concerned about the vagrancy and loitering that takes place at George Washington’s cabin on Greene Street.
“If you’ve been there lately, it smells like a urinal. It’s because they literally pee behind the seat every day. It’s not good for tourism,” he said.
“I can go through it because I’m a big guy and I can take care of myself, but I know families who say they’ll never go there,” he added.
Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss thanked Biser for his comments.
“We fully understand that homelessness is an issue in our community. We understand it can be a barrier to tourism,” Morriss said. “I can assure you that (our Chief Constable) is working on this on a daily basis. There has been a little improvement going forward. But we look forward to hearing your information on this program.
“In this year’s budget, we have a line item of $750,000 for the Union Rescue Mission to help them with their programming and building to be able to help the homeless. Additionally, we have developed programs to help city landlords improve their housing for the type of occupancy you’re talking about,” Morriss said.
Biser said his supporters will remain committed to helping implement a solution to the problem.