An update from ANC 3F Commissioner Mary Beth Ray:
Many neighbors have expressed concern for the homeless man living near the Van Ness Epicurean & Co. As of this morning, he is receiving medical help, and his encampment has been removed. In order to protect his privacy, details are not available. However, a vast network of DC agencies and officials have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that he receives the help he needs, and that a fair encampment protocol, which provides notice and assistance, is followed.
What should we do as a community of concerned neighbors? Listen to the experts. As counter-intuitive as it seems, do not offer food and money directly to the homeless, say representatives of Friendship Place, the DC Department of Behavioral Health, and others. Giving them food and money directly might make us feel good about ourselves, but it enables living on the street, and discourages them from seeking the professional help they need.
Services are available. So if you want to help, please donate generously to or volunteer with organizations that are trained to provide professional help to the homeless. For Ward 3, consider supporting Friendship Place (friendshipplace.org with more info below). In Ward 2 you might support Georgetown Ministry Center (georgetownministrycenter.org). Emergency services, medical care, psychiatric services, outreach, housing placement, even job placement are offered.
Homelessness is an extremely difficult and complex problem. In DC, numerous agencies play a role in the process. Judy Williams is a social worker and homeless services coordinator with the DC Department of Behavioral Health Homeless Outreach Program and Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP). Ms. Williams is one of the most knowledgeable and articulate experts on homelessness in our area, and she sums up the players trying to solve homelessness:
The Office of Neighborhood Engagement (ONE) upon notification of an encampment, notifies the primary agencies and arranges an assessment of the site in order to determine whether the encampment meets the threshold to trigger the protocol. Department of Human Services (DHS) outreaches to displaced persons. Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) provides outreach services to individuals residing in an encampment. Department of Transportation (DDOT) …Provides traffic control services when the encampment clean-up is underway. Department of Public Works (DPW) responsible for collecting and disposing of debris. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) provides security during active clean-ups.
In addition to those listed above, the following agencies may also be contacted to participate in the Property Disposition Conference Call and provide supportive services when appropriate:
Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA)
Department of Health (DOH)
Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR)
Office on Aging (DCOA)
Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water)
Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA)
Office of the Attorney General (AOG)
Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS); and
Department of General Services (DGS)
Coordination to clean up a site requires the involvement of all agencies in group A and sometimes from group B, with the exception of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, which is always involved. In conjunction with the government service providers, we work with our community partners, to provide as much support as possible for our homeless citizens.
Keeping in mind that we are dealing with a person or sometimes groups of people, couples, and families, the cleanup effort may be slower than individuals might wish. As will be seen in the near future in your community, when all of the required steps are completed and all of the partner’s schedules are coordinated, we take action aimed at the best interests of all involved.
Ms. Williams and Laura Woody of Friendship Place recently met with members of the Van Ness Main Streets and ANC 3F to explain the process and services. In addition to city services offered above, Ms. Woody explained that Friendship Place “offers a low barrier drop in center for individuals experiencing homelessness located at 4713 Wisconsin Ave NW.”
We are open Monday-Friday from 8:30-11:30 and 1-3. Here we offer individuals a safe place to spend the day off of the streets. We serve breakfast and lunch, have shower and laundry facilities, and provide toiletries and other basic needs items. Medical and psychiatric services are available in addition to case management services designed to connect individuals to community resources and housing.
We also provide street outreach in Ward 3. These services include crisis intervention and working to connect individuals to the support and services they need. We are happy to respond if a community member sees someone in need. To contact an outreach worker please email email@example.com or call 202-441-2268. For information on ways to get involved, please contact our Community Engagement Coordinator Jayme Aronberg at 202-503-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite all this help, we still need a homeless coordinator to make sure everyone is on the same page, that the dizzying array of services is made available to every homeless person, and that there is no duplication. Woody and Williams both expressed a need for someone to oversee and coordinate each case. Mayor Bowser’s dedication to end homelessness in the District is admirable. Perhaps establishing a hands-on coordinator is what’s needed next.