by David Cristeal
ANC 3F01 commissioner
Two elderly homeless people, who by many standards should be enjoying their golden years, have long occupied an encampment on a small portion of Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness/UDC.
Some put have the man’s Van Ness residency at almost 20 years. Up until recently, the encampment was located in front of UDC’s recently acquired commercial property between Windom and Veazey Terrace that provided relatively better shelter. The alcoves were even angled to better block winds from the north. After the recent “resettlement,” they moved to their current location – against the wall that wraps around the western Van Ness metro station entrance.
This encampment has perplexed and vexed and made some neighbors uncomfortable. Other neighbors have provided food, funding and other support. Many of us may not pay much attention at all. In my almost four years living but a half mile south, I have passed by them as well. Wondering especially in the winter at nights, “How do they do it?” In pouring rain, how do they do it? In the sweltering heat, how do they do it?
As a former housing director for a North Carolina County that supervised a shelter for up to 300 homeless men, a transitional housing center and street outreach program I have a bit of insight into the “Why?”: It’s what they know. In the case of the man who spends much of the day hunched over, quietly reading, it’s a place he has known for perhaps as long as 20 years. It’s a relatively safe place, well lit at night, and as I mentioned above, our neighbors are giving. You may be one of these neighbors. Thank you for your kindness and empathy.
We recently held a Zoom call with representatives of the Mayor’s Office, Van Ness Main Street and Miriam’s Kitchen. The purpose of the call was to better understand this homeless encampment and discuss a better future for it and residents. Can we get them to a safer place before winter arrives?
Miriam’s Kitchen staff was wonderful in its sharing of its experience and knowledge as it is the District’s contract agency to work with homeless encampments in most of northwest DC. It has relationships with other agencies and organizations helping homeless individuals and families. Miriam’s Kitchen staff stated that several government and private homeless service providers regularly engage the encampment, ensuring that basic needs are met, and endeavor to build rapport, trust and overcome barriers to housing interventions.
Where do we want to go from here? We think it’s fairly straightforward – develop a plan, staged over a period of time that gets them first from WMATA space to a safer, nearby space to be determined. We’re open to your ideas, thoughts and concerns. We do not claim to know all the answers, but working together, I believe we are going to succeed. Once we can get this couple moved to a better, more sheltered nearby space, we will then work on getting them to better, and hopefully permanent housing. Who knows – perhaps Miriam’s Kitchen and their human service colleagues will be successful in getting these two people into more permanent housing without another move.
We don’t know if this plan will succeed, but working together – with Van Ness Main Street, the Mayor’s Office, Miriam’s Kitchen, UDC, ANC 3F and supportive, patient, empathetic neighbors, we’ll do the best we can.
You can help by supporting the organizations that are working on a long-term plan to improve this homeless encampment and the people living there. This includes Miriam’s Kitchen and Van Ness Main Street. You can also help by letting your elected representatives know to continue their support for programs that support the homeless, including supportive services, rental assistance and affordable housing.
Drop me a note if you have any questions or concerns. And thank you for your understanding.