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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bowser, Tents and the Homeless

I was in the District the other day for something. And I saw bright comfortable looking tents in the street. It was amazing. I thought it was some artists display or something. And then it hit me. These were the District of Columbia's homeless, in actual shelters!

When I moved to the District back in the 70s the city would have none of that. A "bag lady" with a shopping cart full of all her possessions was not usually subject to arrest, only because conditions in jail were a little better than on the street. But the police and local thugs were infamous for stealing her stuff, taking her shopping cart back to the supermarket, or just tossing the lot in a dumpster. Over the years, it just got worse. I used to see homeless folks sleeping on the steam-grates outside the Federal Buildings. I also would see the police roust them up. "No loitering!" (sleeping). Back in those days I was only one pay check for two from joining them so I felt a lot of sympathy for the homeless. But no one else did. Later, the homeless would start aggregating out of sight, near the Whitehurst Freeway, under bridges, places where the police could be spotted before they came through. During "clean up campaigns" that meant tossing clothes, sleeping bags and blankets into trash bags and throwing them away far away from the now shivering homeless folks. I know homeless die from that. I once would periodically help one schizophrenic lady I met. When I first met her she seemed almost normal. The last time I met her she'd lost toes to frostbite. I tried to find out who here family was so she could get help. She was too far gone. They die, uncounted, unremarked. Just a "John Doe". Sometimes family members wonder where they went. I have some idea.

I remember when Reagan ousted residents from St. Elizabeths. New drugs would get their schizophrenia under control enough so that they could be sent to "halfway homes." For some this was an improvement, but others would simply go "off their meds" and wind up in the streets. I met those people. Some of them were frightening. All of them needed help.

Mitch Snyder took over a vacant office building and turned it into a homeless building. Other shelters were also setup and these were useful when the weather was really cold -- though too chaotic and dangerous to be a home at anytime. While he was alive, and for a time after, at least some homeless people were getting help. But Ms. Bowser's predecessor wanted the property for redevelopment. They moved them to the edges of the city -- which was particularly cruel since most homeless actually have some kind of work and are homeless because in the district a home is not a right and 90% of people are priced out of one. The homeless went back to sleeping on the street. At least, for now, someone made the decision to allow them to live in tents and keep their blankets and sleeping bags. Maybe fewer will die this winter. Most homeless people want a home. They don't want a cot in a homeless shelter dominated by thieves, thugs, rapists, bureaucrats and bed bugs.

We treat rats better than we treat our sisters and brothers.

Further Reading

Note, what is remarkable about this story is not the donation of the tents -- I've seen that before -- but that the police and authorities are letting the homeless keep them. So for now Kudos to Mayor Bowser.

"He made a promise to help others"

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