In efforts to reduce the level of homelessness in Washington, D.C. advocates for the poor spend many hours attending meetings, listening for vital information that could affect the lives of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
But often, democracy can be a little frustrating. The issues that are so important to advocates do not always merit much mention by the higher-ups.
Robert Warren, executive director of People for Fairness Coalition, puts it this way.
“Sometimes I come down to the Wilson Building and I don’t understand the disconnect.”
I often have that same feeling.
Here is an example: on July 2 the Committee for Economic Development held a hearing about the Saint Elizabeth campus in Southeast Washington.
District leaders have enormous plans for the site. In a decade, they hope to see a $2.5 billion “Innovation Hub” on the grounds of the historic psychiatric hospital.
The project will require the demolition of some of the buildings that are currently located on the property. One of the structures is known as 801 East. It’s a year-round mens emergency shelter with 380 beds, run by Catholic Charities.
For the homeless men who depend on the shelter, the city’s plans for the redevelopment, and for that building, are a source of worry.
At the meeting, Councilwoman Muriel Bowser offered reassurances.
She said there is no time limit on the shelter. Yet some men who stay at the shelter have reported that there is some kind of construction on the campus, contributing to their concerns.
One thing I can say for Bowser. She did not dismiss the idea the people need jobs. She also said that if we really look at the numbers, homelessness can be addressed and that we can end it.
That is a place where she and Robert Warren see eye-to-eye. He often talks about the importance of ending homelessness. It particularly bothers him that lifelong District residents are being displaced by gentrification.
“I know guys that have been in this city all their life,” he likes to begin, as he describes the painful fact that native Washingtonians are being left homeless, or being pushed out of their own city. Some of them are elders, which reminds me of another meeting.
On July 3, advocates spoke before the DC Commission on Human Rights. They came armed with complaint forms from homeless seniors who feel that they have faced discrimination. What will happen to these complaints remains to be seen.
As usual, we advocates are waiting for answers.