Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Dear Catholic Charities and DC Goverment: It is time to be a good neighbor

Last week in response to an email I received announcing the unveiling of the new Saint Elizabeths hospital The Advoc8te sent a very stern yet factual email inquiring about Saint Elizabeths plans (or the lack thereof) regarding the loitering situation caused by the homeless shelter housed on the St Elizabeths campus.
You probably already  know what I am talking about. During the day, MLK Avenue directly in front of Saint Elizabeths looks like our own version of skid row because the homeless that are housed at the shelter at night are given the boot during the day. With no place to go we in the community see them every day loitering or roaming the streets in the neighborhood. Not only is this practice very disruptive to our neighborhood because it makes our neighborhood look bad but it is a horrible and insensitive way to treat the District's  homeless.

The homeless  are kicked out during the day without so much as a plan, an activity or a place to go and as a result, the homeless people do what anyone else without any place would do – they eat, sleep and drink in the streets until they are allowed to return to the shelter at night. By all accounts our neighborhood surrounding Saint Elizabeths has become a waiting room for the city's homeless. They have been shipped to our neighborhood and dumped out onto the streets during the day without so much as any added assistance by the shelter to help deal with the negative consequences such as trash.

To be clear, I am not blaming the homeless people. They are very much victims of this unfortunate situation. I am upset not only because of what this is doing to our neighborhood but what this is doing to them.  I have a big issue with whomever is running the homeless shelter on the Saint Elizabeths campus and how they are not only  dropping the ball on services to the homeless but they have been giving a royal “F--- You” to the community. What do “they” think of “us” when they think this is okay and that we wouldn’t mind? Well we do mind!

This “dumping” of the CITY’S (let us not forget that this is a city wide shelter based in our neighborhood) homeless into our streets is one of THE biggest complaints I hear from residents.  It’s not just the loitering that is a problem, it’s the trash (and there is a lot of trash), the noise, the drinking, the fighting and most importantly a few of these homeless people (and let’s not forget these are people who deserve respect and care) have some serious mental issues. There is a safety issue to address. We can’t continue to have emotionally challenged or substance dependent homeless roaming the neighborhood. It’s dangerous for them and for us. The homeless are not castaways and neither is Congress Heights where this shelter is based.

To pick up on the constant complaint of my neighbors, “this would NEVER be tolerated in Georgetown!”

So why is it okay here in Congress Heights (where we are already drowning in group homes that aren’t being maintained or monitored properly).

So now that I have brought you up to speed….

In reply to my email inquiring about the apparent lack of an aftercare plan for the homeless during the day, this is the very nice and informative email that I received from the Saint Elizbeths HOSPITAL about the SHELTER. Contrary to what I initially thought Saint Elizabeths does NOT run the homeless shelter, Catholic Charities does.

Hi Neighbors,

FYI, I am copying this reply to Dr. Canavan, our CEO. I know what you mean about the park and about the hospital fence line.

The loitering homeless folks that you see in the neighborhood during the day ARE NOT patients at Saint E's. All approximately 350 of the persons in our care are in supervised groups at the Hospital or in the community during the day. Some have privileges that allow them to go outside the campus for an hour in the afternoon (usually to the store for a soda), but they are not hanging out.

The guys that you see are residents of 801 East - that's a night shelter that is run by Catholic Charities under contract from the D.C. government on our campus. We don't have any authority over it.

The director of 801 East is Paul Amara. His phone is 202-561-4014 and his email is

I AM ASKING ALL MY CONGRESS HEIGHTS AND WARD 8/RIVER EAST NEIGHBORS TO PLEASE EMAIL AND/OR CALL The director of 801 East, Paul Amara. His phone is 202-561-4014 and his email is .

801-East Housing Assistance Center

Provides 12-hour and 24-hour emergency shelter and comprehensive case management services to homeless single adult men 18 years or older. Hypothermia Shelter.
801 East Building, 2700 Martin Luther King Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20032


Catholic Charities Headquarters:
James Cardinal Hickey Center
924 G Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 772-4300
(202) 772-4408

Contact by Division
• Adult and Family ServicesS
Denise Capaci: (202) 635-5900

• Housing and Support Services
Regine Clermont: (202) 772-4300

• Children Services
Meha Desai: (202) 526-4100

• Developmental Disabilities Services (Kennedy Institute)
Daphne Pallozzi: (202) 281-2700

• Immigrant and Refugee Services
Fr. Mario Dorsonville: (202) 939-2400

• Catholic Charities Enterprises
Scott Lewis: (202) 635-5900


CM Tommy Wells
Office: 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 408, NW Washington, DC 20004

Tel: (202) 724-8072
Fax: (202) 724-8054

FYI - This is not a case of "not in my backyard" but why does it always have to be Ward 8's back yard? And if you are going to use our  backyard can't you be a decent neighbor and at least clean-up after yourself? Can you give us a helping hand every now and again? Can  you understand that we are trying to enjoy our backyard too and right now that isn't happening.

During my last visit to your meeting, I did my best to explain to your organization the nature of Catholic Charities operation of the 801 East Men’s shelter. I would like to make it clear again that we are contracted by the District via the Community Partnership (TCP) to run an emergency shelter from 7pm to 7am. 801 East is also a hypothermia shelter; hence during the period of November to April, the shelter opens to the residents during adverse weather conditions. Catholic Charities is not contracted to provide services for the men outside the hours I have indicated. These hours coincide with the times you have mentioned as areas of concern. The district through the Department of Parks and recreations provide bus shuttles from the shelter to designated areas downtown DC. Catholic Charities again has no control over where these men go or stay during the day. I have noticed with regret that there is a miscommunication deliberate or not that tends to portray Catholic Charities as responsible for the men hanging around the neighborhood.

I would again want to express my understanding of your concerns but would also maintain that Catholic Charities is only contracted to run the shelter from 7pm to 7am. I would whole heartedly support any move to keep these men in the shelter and keep them away from the streets, but the necessary resources needs to be put in place; hence I have copied officials of the Department of Human services, and the Community Partnership for their attention. It is my hope that your organization will see Catholic Charities as a Provider that seeks to help the homeless men at 801 East and Ward 8, hence a partner rather than as a foe in your advocacy role. My hope is that there may be a positive outcome that will ensure that our neighborhood relations become strengthened.


To contact The Advoc8te to submit an article or to inquire about advertising options send an email to


DC Debutante said...

They have no idea that we are FED THE HELL UP!

Anonymous said...

I agree totally! This is such a shame. I have friends and family that come visit me and they assume that all of the homeless are from the neighborhood. This is part of what gives our neighborhood a bad name.

SEis4ME said...

Why are the homeless turned out without a place to go? Because we are in one of the poorest areas of DC. As someone who has looked into this, what you are talking about is the experiences had my shelters and urban centers across the country. If you consider the DC shelters, many of them end up spending their days panhandling then head back to their shelters at night. This is the life of the homeless.

Right now I walk within 2 blocks of the white house and see homeless people sleeping in the streets. I don't like seeing these things in my Ward but it is one of the unfortunate things that comes with the territory and I would guess that the Catholic Charities can only do so much beyond instructing the tenants to clean up after themselves because moving them requires resources. Sordid story but the story nonetheless.

For the record, I long stopped wondering what people (who don't live in my ward) will think about my Ward. Gotta problem with where I live or what you see while there, don't visit me. They know the deal.

Anonymous said...

I have two questions:

1) Where is the district "busing" these homeless and for what? Are they recieving social services or assistance for permanent housing or addiction services? Where do those people go who are bused? Out on the street or do they have a facility?

2) I am sure it has not gone unnoticed by the Department of Health and Human Services all of the loitering or the homeless on the neighborhood street. Has any money or additional services such as trash pick-up been offered to the neighborhood? Either with a clean-up team, etc. I would think that DC goverment should at least set aside some funds to address the lack of having a place to go during the day, besides the parks of course.

SEis4ME said...

ADV may be a better person to fully answer what I could not.

But here it goes, generally speaking this updates confirms what I attempted to say in my previous posts. Once they leave the doors, these organizations don't have much responsibility for these people until they enter the doors for the evening.

I believe Paul mentioned that they "bus" them to downtown locations. This may explain the number of panhandlers in the downtown areas. So in essence, they go whereever their feet take them until boarding time.

As far as resources available. There probably isn't very much beyond what we've seen if you consider how some of our streets are currently filthy, littered with empty Steel Reserve cans and random carry out containers. Those elements are there even without the homeless people adding to it.

I'm just not sure if there are really any resources around the city that offer refuge for the homeless during regular business hours. So it may more of a situation where these organizations try to do the best they can by providing meals throughout the day and a place to sleep/shower. Not seeing there isn't more than can be done but who knows.

My last little point is that I didn't know a lot about the ST. E situation. But, I wonder did ADV or anyone else for that matter not fully understand homelessness in DC before they began to "sorta" lash out at the entitities they felt responsible for the ongoing problem.

I was saddened after hearing about this but Paul confirmed in part what I already expected.

The Advoc8te said...


"But, I wonder did ADV or anyone else for that matter not fully understand homelessness in DC before they began to "sorta" lash out at the entitities they felt responsible for the ongoing problem."

My major points are the following:

1) It's unacceptable period. It doesn't matter how long it's been going on or why or the challenges or the difficulties or the fiscal issues it's wrong - end of story. It's unacceptable and should have never been tolerated in the first place and it needs to be addresssed.

2) Personally I resent any type of insinuation that just because this is a "poor" community (and I take issue with that because I think Congress Heights is rich in so many ways) and therefore it's just the way that it is. Steel Reserve cans and filthy streets do not mean that we do not care about our community therefore adding more blight and steel reserve cans and filfth to the mix won't matter much. It DOES matter probably even more so because in order to get on track and make positive headway it's going to take a multi-faceted approach, collaboration and lets face it - a hard line. If we want things to improve and change as a community we are going to have to make it clear what we will and will not accept and be firm with that. That is part of the problem in our community now. Coming up with a plan, sticking to it and then executing it. For all the yelling and complaints about DC goverment, or non-profits (like Catholic Charities) taking advantage or not caring about our community at the end of the day "the buck stops here" at each and everyone of our doorsteps. Unless we are willing to stand up and be "advocates" for our own community who the heck will?

3) Probably the thing that upsets me the most is that you better bet your bottom dollar that when DOH moves over to St E's they are not going to tolerate that loitering for a minute. In fact I bet dollars to dougnuts the city already has plans to close that shelter and "bus" those folks to some other unsuspecting neighborhood, most likely an EotR neighborhood. Why should we wait for progress to come with DOH comes? Things aren't going to improve unless we make them improve. Again, the problem isn't with the homeless per se but with how the city and their contractors allow people to fall through the cracks into the neighborhood and then don't provide the neigbhborhood effected with information, a plan and rescources to handle these people.

I was driving up and down MLK yesterday and it was just sad. It was so...tragic seeing how we as a community - the nation's capital no less treat our own people, fellow human beings and it was even more tragic that they were "dumped" or "hidden" in a community that for too long has been forgotten or at least not considered, a community that has for too long been deemed "unsaveable".

That bothers me because there is good here and we need to protect it and nurture it and if possible even find ways to integrate some of these homeless in a positive and humane way into our community.

I am not sure if this is what you were getting at but let me clear this up once and for all because honestly this is really starting to tap dance on my last nerve. I moved to CH a little less 3 years ago but I have been in the DC area for over 15 years. I went to college here, I lived in DC, I always worked in DC and before I moved into CH I was living in Maryland literally less than a mile from Ward 7 so there is no confusion on my end about the homeless situation or the homeless situation in DC or DC related issues for that matter. I am not brand new to the DC game or culture. I have hte battle scars and the taxes to prove it. :)

SEis4ME said...

One of the challenges in online discussions is the ease in which things can get lost in translation. My posts were in response to the article but also to the question another poster posed.

So: I agree that how the homeless are turned out into the streets is unacceptable. In fact homelessness is unacceptable. But it is this way across the country. There is no perfect model for homelessness.

2) I personally resent having to deal with cab drivers who, after I give them my address, miraculously go off duty. I resent not being able to order from Pizza Hut. I resent the number of Feng Toi's Carry out fliers stuck in my building's door. But I have long acknowledged that this is where I live. These are the consequences of living in the poorest area of DC. It just is. That is no way means that I love my neighborhood any less. It does not mean that I am not proactive in doing my part to better it. It just is. My SReserve comment was in response to the question about why more resources aren't being devoted to cleaning up our the areas you mention. My point here is that the city does not provide resources to clean up the filth we currently see. What I did not say (but obviously believe) is that the community has to become a part of that solution by doing what you did for that park near the Gas Station - neighborhood cleanups. The reason we don't see the trash in "other" areas of the city is because of this same effort.

3) Will DHS tolerate this? Heck no. But it's not so simple. DHS will have the financial resources to ensure that it, like all federal agencies, to solve the current problem. These resources are not currently there and solving it is unfortunately or not left up to the community. So no that does not mean that we should wait 6 years before that happens. But it also means that we should be less inclined to ask the question "why" in our neigborhood. We should work to fix the problems but asking "why" is what I don't get. My friends ask why there isn't a major mall or Nordstrom in their "affluent" Prince George's County. We can pretty much figure out why.

It's tragic that homeless people congregate in the park directly across from the World Bank's headquarters, less than a block away from the White House. This is homelessness. This is our nation's capital.

Thanks for the info and I did gather upon first reading your blog that you have been in the DMV for a while. I got you on that. What I also have noticed though is that sometimes you ask questions or present points of conflict when the answers are so obvious. Ex. Why is there so much lawlessness and unemployment in our Ward? Ans. Because we are one of the poorest in DC. Again, that's not making an excuse or being unconcerned or not wanting better or complacency. It's just an acknowledgement of "this is where I live, these are the things that can/can't be accomplished in short/long order."

Do not think for one minute that I enjoy walking past Malcolm X elementary and seeing 14 yr olds shooting craps ON THE SIDE OF THE SCHOOL BUILDING!! Then again, I hate seeing the same when I shop at Harris Teeter near Potomac Ave. Except those times, it's men older than I am shooting craps in BROAD daylight.

SEis4ME said...

One more thing, please don't get me to talking about taxes. I'm a single brotha with no kids, car, or mortgage. So Uncle Sam kicks my butt. He suckerpunches me every two weeks, knocks me down the stairs then leaves me there..bruised but not out. This is something else that I intended to mention as well. I don't think is much equity between what we require in city services vs. the taxes we pay. That is not the same in other areas of the city where there's a healthy tax base.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that this situation is a burden, blight, eyesore, nuisance, etc etc on the Congress Hgts community, it is not unique to that particular area. That is the nature of all homeless shelters and there are several spread out across the entire city. Drive by any one of them and you will encounter similar scenarios. 2nd and D ST NW in particular (just a few blocks from the capitol building). While I appreciate your efforts in this matter, the general theme that I see developing in this post/comments is that this only happens in Congress Hgts because it is a "poor community" or "EOTR" when in fact it is not. Please do not take this post as an attack or any aggression upon your crusade because it is not, rather wanted to point out that this exact situation plays out every day across all quadrants of DC. And a final note, the situation of the those homeless men loitering / panhandling during the day will not improve until they take steps to help themselves rather than wait for a government handout that will never materialize.