a photo of an event "Come Talk to Us" at Freedom Plaza
Yura Shin

Freedom Plaza was bustling with excitement on Friday, Oct. 10.

Undaunted by the rain, an eager crowd gathered for “Come Talk to Us,” a campaign forum organized by the grassroots People for Fairness Coaltion.

The event was intended as a chance for contenders in the Nov. 4 mayoral election to listen to the stories of  poor and homeless city residents and offer responses to their questions and concerns.

However, at 1 p.m, the official start time, none of the candidates or their representatives had shown up. Eventually, DC City Council member and Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser’s chief-of-staff Joy Hollins arrived. She was followed by mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz, a former member of the council who is running as an Independent. City Council member David Catania who is also running as an Independent never arrived, nor did he send a representative.

Regardless, the show went on. The event began with a variety of homeless and formerly homeless people sharing powerful stories of their pasts. Both Hollins and Schwartz listened attentively to what the speakers had to say. At one point, a woman spoke of being raped after falling asleep while waiting to get into a shelter. Hollins began to cry, telling the woman

“I’m sorry. ”

Both she and Schwartz directly addressed the people in the crowd, offering assurances that their campaigns meant to make life better for the District’s most vulnerable residents.

Schwartz used her time to outline her plan to address homelessness in the city.

“One of the reasons I’m running is to help the homeless population,” she told the audience. She went on to explain that she knows there is money in the city, since Washington DC has developed into a “boomtown” over the years.

“With all this money, why aren’t we doing anything about the homeless?” she asked.

Her question prompted a large round of applause from the audience.

A listener asked Schwartz to speak more about her position on shelters.

Schwartz responded that she doesn’t mind the idea of a shelter if its nice, clean, and humane. She explained that in the ideal shelter, people are only there by choice. After hearing murmurs about why anyone would ever choose to go to a shelter, she explained her belief that shelters are beneficial because people in them often support each other. She also promised background checks for employees at shelters, which elicited a second round of applause from the audience.

Next, it was Hollins’ turn to speak for the Bowser campaign. Right from the get-go, she emphasized “housing first”, meaning that DC should prioritize getting the homeless real housing rather than finding them shelters. Hollins then spoke of redefining the word “affordable” when it comes to affordable housing, making the point that too much of the housing now termed “affordable” housing is actually too costly for the poor and working poor.

This comment was met with a large round of applause.

Hollins acknowledged that as mayor, Bowser would keep some shelters in operation but it would be Bowser’s goal to rely less upon placing homeless people in shelters. She also said Bowser would support programs to keep families intact.

The biggest applause of the event was given to Hollins when she stated, “I don’t like making plans about people when the people we are talking about are not there.”  Furthermore, she ensured that landlords will need to have some allowance for individuals with low income. Finally, Hollins asked that the community “keeps this going.” She referred to the event as a “great start”, but urged the audience to keep holding events like it in order to provoke change.