Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why does my DC neighborhood have to suffer so yours can prosper?

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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Anonymous said...

I agree with you, something has to be done. I'm working on a project in the area and when it rain it pours and that is people into local businesses and restaurants to shield themselves until the weather passes. I am trying to support the local business community but not at the expense of being bombarded by the homeless and teens with nothing to do asking me for money. I try to help who I can but this can't be everyday. It's to the point where I have to drive all the way to capitol hill and back just for lunch. Its not fair to the community for such a thing to take place. Hopefully the right people read this post and will work to stop this grass roots movement to keep ward 8 residents living in such a state of poverty. This is a great location and it shouldn't have to wait for development to push residents out, before it becomes livable.

Stephen Bess said...

I grew up not far from there in the now demolished Linda Pollin Housing projects. Although I now live in Maryland, I pay attention to how the city is changing. I noticed that "developers" are very strategic in where they place certain types of housing. It seems to vary from block to block. It's unfortunate what they are doing in and through that corridor of MLKjr/Malcolm X. It's also unfortunate that many or most street names associated with these slain leaders--all over the US--are in depressed areas. Thanks for this article. Peace~

RuninDC said...

Well said. So sad and true. i'm tied to have my neighborhood treated like a dumping ground. Something has to be done.

Anonymous said...

When will voters stop electing Marion Barry? No business wants to be courted by him and he has been worthless to Ward 8. Until residents realize that and stop re-electing him, nothing much will change.

Anonymous said...

I have said for years it is an absolute disgrace that in the nation's capital, at the intersection named after two slain civil right's leaders that this has been allowed to happen for years. I too have complained about this long and often.

It would be nice to have that area be a source of pride for the Ward 8 and DC community instead of the eyesore it has been allowed to become.

Everyone needs a place to go, I just don't understand why the streets of our neighborhood are an acceptable solution. I agree with you, most of the people loitering on MLK Ave are from the shelter.

Keep up the good fight!

Anonymous said...

Because neither the politicians nor the people in George Town or the Golden Triangle will allow it.

This is very sad and it happens in a city with a surplus in the budget and btw its the National Capitol. But did Marion Barry protested this on the counsel? How many community/ ANC meetings happened at least to try to change this?

This is how some people get re-elected - keep your electorate poor, undereducated, miserable. The Plan.

h st ll said...

Excellent writing, but I am conflicted. First, after seven and half years doing social work, I see from the perspective of those persons with mental health diagnoses and substance abuse problems. The city does allocate a lot of financial and personnel resources at solving this problem. It really is so large, though, that it can seem like the city doesn't at times.

I agree it looks rough at times EOTR. However, downtown, Mount Vernon nhood, H St Corridor, Capital hill and other NW areas absolutely do deal with this problem all time also.

I don't know what the answer is. SF has either implemented or strongly considered an anti sit/lie law in which one cannot loiter.That is problematic for other reasons and may infrige upon basic rights.

The Advoc8te said...

"However, downtown, Mount Vernon nhood, H St Corridor, Capital hill and other NW areas absolutely do deal with this problem all time also. "

I don't think this problem is exclusive to our neighborhood -- so to speak but I will say that in porportion to our amneties and options we are carrying way too much than we can handle. Also, the other neighbors mentioned do not have the stigma that EotR still carries so in many ways I do feel our situation is more sever. I wouldn't have an issue putting a shelter on a block or in a neighborhood that has enough businesses, nightlife, retail, and other "bright spots" to absorb it but locating these "dark shadows" (that is what they are) in a concentrated space with other dark shadows doesn't shine a bright light on economic development. No one is going to open a restaurant next to a homeless shelter but maybe a homeless shelter can open next to a group a restaurants.

Can we get a restaurant??? And a grocery store? And a dog park? And a pharmacy? And a book store? And all those other things that other parts of the city take for granted but are still sorely missed on this side of the river.

Poverty pimping can not be the main source of commerce EotR.

h st ll said...

Excellent job elucidating your point. You are 100% right that other amenities can overshadow negative perceptions.

I don't have much else to add right now, although I do think the amenities are migrating to CH. Too slowly, for sure. What are the solutions in the meantime? I don't think the city will move the St. E's shelter anytime soon... is a large cleanup and making things more presentable what to do? Forced daytime activities for persons suffering from mental illness and substance abuse? Not sure that is legal. I hear your frustration about new providers coming in, but the big dog is the shelter at St. E's.

h st ll said...

But yes re: restaurants and a grocery store. The city will be providing free rent to businesses at the pavilion, but that is not really a restaurant. I would love to see the city (wealthy as it/we are) directly fund/subsidize grocery stores.

Anonymous said...

Earlier i of course thought of the giant on alabama ave. Do you want a speciality small grocer? You of course deserve it. Its tough that d why i wanna start a busness just to employ people. But that is like a needle in a haystack againsy these systemic problemsi

Whitney Moore said...

Please everyone who has an issue with the park at the corner of MLK Ave and Malcolm X ave SE please contact Enough people may get a change!

The Advoc8te said...

Thanks Whitney for the information but I have been in contact with Julie and the National Park Service about this. I was in constant contact with them when I first moved here 6 years ago. Less than 18 months ago that park got a complete overhaul. New trees were planted, sod was laid, new tables and benches were installed (I pleaded for those to be left out) and a brand new playground was installed. NPS even put some fencing up for a while around the new trees and grass to keep people from destroying it. NPS picked up the milk crates and trash and installed new trash cans. They had Park Police patrol the park for a while.

You can see how long that lasted. That park has once again descended into complete and utter chaos. It looks jacked up -- the grass is gone, the trees are dead, the benches and tables are not public drinking stations and some idiot has managed to destroy all the fencing around the playground -- lord knows what has happened to the playground itself.

Until the heart of the issue is solved: too many social service providers and shelters without daytime waiting rooms or facilities we are literally just cleaning it up for it to be jacked up again.

That "park" has long ago been forfeited.

Anonymous said...

Have you contacted the Executive Directo of the FarSoutheast Collaborative for assistnace? the Department of Mental Health and APRA should be contacted to do assessments thru the crisis mobile team. Isn't there a collaborative of Ward 8 ministers who can be contacted? I think you do have options.