Originally posted August 29, 2013. I thought it was fitting to repost it again now.
Earlier this week I was stuck in traffic on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE, across from the Saint Elizabeths East Campus in Congress Heights. While I was waiting I decided to take some pictures of the progress on the new Arts Pavilion being constructed on the east campus. As I was snapping pictures of what was going on behind the fence I was struck once again by the scores of homeless men lined up in front of the fence; the daily line-up of sadness and tragedy waiting for the 801 East Shelter to reopen for the night. Because of the hour (3pm) and construction taking place on MLK Ave the number of homeless men waiting was much lower than usual, this time about 10 as opposed to the 20 - 30 that usually line up as the day progresses.
The region's homeless line up daily in Congress Heights outside the gates of Saint Elizabeths East
for the shelter that opens at night. There is no interior waiting area.
I have written about the problems of clustering social service residential facilities and transitional housing in Ward 8 neighborhoods such as Congress Heights and Anacostia before. (FYI - both neighborhoods have homeless shelters on their main business corridor.) I have written about the lack of adequate waiting areas for these residential facilities, and how the region's homeless have to congregate in our parks and on our streets. I have written about how both of these issues have a severe and negative impact on the economic development (and quality of life) for the residents and business owners of our Ward 8 communities. I have written about the complete lack of action in fixing this problem. I have written about the stupidity of locating "affordable" housing, group homes, and homeless housing in communities with the highest unemployment and with the lowest number of quality retail, dining, and shopping options. At this very moment I am personally suffering financially because of this problem. I have considered (more than once) walking away from my mortgage and still there is no solution in sight. And in case you think I am over exaggerating, there are more group homes and transitional housing facilities in a two block radius of my home than there are restaurants in all of Ward 8. Take a moment and think about that. It doesn't give me the warm "one city" feeling everyone is talking about.
For most people who witness this sad scene while traveling through Congress Heights they just dismiss it as further proof they have entered "the hood." For those of us who live here -- permanently I may add -- we are faced with the challenges of trying to squeeze our daily life within the confines of a social service dumping ground. Imagine trying to give directions to a stranger to come to your home. Imagine trying to give them directions that will not take them past the homeless shelter on MLK Ave or the neighborhood park filled with the homeless on Malcolm X Avenue (hint: you can't). These are real issues we have to address every single day. The reality is that the overwhelmingly majority of the homeless men lined up outside of the gate are not from our neighborhood -- they come from DC, Maryland, Virginia and all over. Some of the homeless are bussed in, others make the commute on their own to this facility (one of many in our neighborhood). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, "this would never be tolerated in Georgetown or the Golden Triangle." Why is okay to do this here? Is it because we all look alike so no one would notice? Is it easier to disguise poverty and homelessness in a economically disadvantaged community than a prosperous one?
Maybe I have been doing too much writing? Maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words and maybe someone, somewhere, is finally ready to do something about this? NOW? Homeless people should not be treated like this, my neighborhood and my ward should not be treated like this. The children who attend the school across the street, and have to walk past this every day, should not be treated like this.
Ward 8 should not continue to be the dumping ground for the city's undesirable projects. Service providers should see more in our communities than cheap land and the ability to solicit more city contracts. There are people who live here, who have invested here, and who are raising families here. They deserve to have nice things too! Regardless of what side of the river you live on -- or what side of the fence -- we all deserve dignity, respect, and a clean and safe community. And not just when the East and West Campuses are finally being redeveloped.
This is not okay.
P.S. Across the street, less than 200 yards away, a vacant apartment building is being converted into yet another transitional housing facility.
Sometimes it is really hard to be hopeful and lord knows I try.
P.S. While everyone is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the historical high point of the civil rights movement, let me tell you what you will find at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE and Malcolm X Avenue SE in my neighborhood: a liquor store, a check cash company, a Popeye's, a group home, a "park" that doubles as a homeless camp and public drinking hangout and a gas station that sells rolling papers and synthetic weed.
I wish someone would organize a March on Congress Heights.
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