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Homeless Encampments Increasingly Stirring Moves for Humane Solutions

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the December 2019 issue pdf

By P.L. Wolff

In its November 29th issue, the Washington Post reported that the District “has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. According to a recent count, the number of homeless families in the District dropped 15 percent compared to last year, but the number of homeless, single adults increased by 2.8 percent.”

Residents throughout DC encounter homeless people living on the streets seemingly everywhere, not just in the commercial areas, but in the residential neighborhoods as well. As we talk to neighbors throughout our reporting focus area between North Capitol Street and Rock Creek, it is apparent that there is genuine concern for the plight of the homeless coupled with frustration that the District’s bureaucracy seems not to have the resources or legal tools to adequately address the problem.

As one Dupont Circle resident told The InTowner, “I am not heartless when it comes to people’s plights and contribute responsibly, but permitting . . . [living on the streets] is neither caring or responsible.” (Emphasis ours.)

On November 21st, during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Mayor Bowser’s office announced that she had hosted a Hypothermia Awareness Pledge Event “to encourage residents and organizations to join the District’s fight to prevent and end homelessness this winter.” The press release further touted that “[e]ach year, the Bowser Administration implements the Interagency Council on Homelessness Winter Plan to expand hypothermia shelter and other services to ensure a warm bed for anyone who needs it during extreme temperatures.”

The Mayor’s office further reported that “District agencies are working together to protect the lives of unsheltered neighbors by increasing availability of shelter beds, providing more strategic outreach services, offering free warming items and ensuring transportation to shelter is available 24 hours a day,” said DHS Director Laura Zeilinger. “Our community partners serve a vital role as additional eyes and ears. If you see someone outside in need of shelter or assistance, call the Shelter Hotline or 311 – if there appears to be imminent risk to someone’s safety, please call 911.”

While the information about how to get help for individuals needing assistance, the question many are asking is why the focus exclusively on the hypothermia concern; why not anything pointing to year-round initiatives to actually resolve the problem facing homeless people that causes them to have no viable options but to continue to live on the streets?

Over two years ago, in a lead story about the growing problem of illegal, short-term apartment rentals, we reported about a lawsuit filed in April of 2017 against the owners of three rent-controlled apartment building by DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine. In addition to the AG’s allegations of violation of DC law governing rent-controlled properties, a prime motivator for initiating the suit, we were told by Racine’s spokesperson, was the city’s crisis of affordable housing. Now, over two years later, the crisis is even greater and activists are pushing for meaningful solutions.

A December 6th posting on the Dupont Forum listserv, excerpted below, by a resident of the Sedgewick apartments on 19th Street, NW, between R and S Streets, a 1920-ish rent-controlled building, while not initially addressing the issue of housing for the homeless (though it does segue towards the end), clearly articulates the District’s affordable housing crisis:

“The Sedgewick . . . is also a precious rent-controlled building. Yesterday representatives of Daro Apartments [the same group that owns the Rodney] inspected each of our units — @ 90 in our eight-story building under the guise of “Preventive Maintenance”. The ‘inspector’ in my apartment said he works for Daro and they are interested in purchasing our building, currently owned by the Georgetown Company with offices on Wisconsin Ave. in the District and on Park Ave. in New York.

“Please be aware, this portends a very dangerous and serious problem for District of Columbia residents, and particularly now, for our Dupont Circle neighborhood. Please . . . [click this link to read] about Daro and the DC AG successful lawsuit against them, including the Rodney apartments Daro owns. . . .”

“A Washington Post exposé of Daro purchasing buildings to be the Mayor’s homeless abatement solution by placing homeless in apartment buildings with no planning and follow-up services.

“I can speak with some authority on these matters. I was the Federal Court Monitor in the DC Village Nursing Home case, appointed by the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Department of Justice sued the District . . . for the violations of the civil rights of the residents of the nursing home the District owned and operated. . . . I know deeply and sensitively, to outplace individuals who have no skills in apartment dwellings requires extensive planning, and ongoing social work intervention and social and health services.

“It appears that the Mayor’s Office is ignoring these realities and attempting to ‘clean-up’ the increasing homeless problem by placing (hiding) our homeless individuals with no support services, in environments that they are not equipped to navigate. This is a moral and ethical dilemma for all residents of the District of Columbia.”

Homeless Memorial Vigil Dec. 19-20

People for Fairness Coalition (PFFC), an association of homeless and formerly homeless here in DC, will be holding its 7th annual remembrance of “our brothers and sisters who died while homeless at Christmastime.”

In calling attention to this event and its opening service at Luther Place Memorial Church on Thomas Circle at 5 pm on Thursday, the 19th and, at 7 pm, followed by followed by a candlelight procession to Freedom Plaza, the Dupont East Civic Action Association is encouraging “Dupont / Logan Circle residents [who] have participated in the ceremonies the past two years . . . to take part again this year.”

The opening Guest speakers at Freedom Plaza will be joined by entertainment and group singing into the all-night vigil. On Friday morning, there will be advocacy training and breakfast from 9 to 11 am’. The event will conclude with a memorial service and lunch at noon at a location to be announced.

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