by Michael P. DiRienzo
Perhaps, like me, you too have noticed with concern the growing makeshift homeless camp at 4250 Connecticut Avenue, NW.
The vacant former Fannie Mae building located at 4250 Connecticut Avenue has a series of recessed architectural alcoves all along its Connecticut Avenue side, which are accommodating cardboard “tents” for as many as six homeless men, each living in a separate alcove pod.
Perhaps, like me, you too have experienced mixed emotions when you view this scene.
My sense of order and civic pride are challenged by the litter, debris, overflowing trash receptacles and sense of blight which have come to define this block.
At the same time, I am amazed by the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our homeless neighbors and am sensitive to the fact that the homeless have a right to live the lifestyle they choose, realizing that oftentimes mental health issues complicate the problem.
All of which calls to mind the ongoing issue of homelessness in our nation’s capital, made all the more personal by the presence of this makeshift homeless camp in the heart of our Van Ness neighborhood.
I know there are shelters and transport vans and new city-sponsored shelters either open or under construction in every ward of the District, so why should there be this makeshift homeless camp in our midst?
I guess the short answer is because the opportunity of a vacant building presented itself and those in need seized the opportunity to set up camp sites directly beneath posted “Private Property No Trespassing/No Loitering” signs.
I am grateful for the work that Theresa Cameron, Van Ness Main Street’s executive director, and her team have done to address the issue of the makeshift camp at 4250 Connecticut Avenue, touring the block with representatives of the mayor’s office as well building owners.
While it does not solve the greater issue of homelessness in our city and will most likely only serve to relocate the camps, my suggestion would be to eliminate the opportunity presented by a vacant building by requesting that building owners to install ornamental wrought iron fencing across each of the recessed alcoves along the front of the building until such time as the building is reoccupied by UDC.
I know many of my neighbors and friends will take issue with my suggestion; however, I wanted to start the conversation and invite others to weigh in, hoping a satisfactory resolution can be identified which will be fair to all stakeholders.
Michael P. DiRienzo has been a resident of the Van Ness neighborhood since 1999.
Forest Hills Connection is a project of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Alliance. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.
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