Alex Barth

On Jan. 20, Americans  marked the  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday as a national day of service. The King holiday is one of the few holidays when the homeless are thought about, besides Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yet  I wonder if  Dr. King would approve of the way his holiday was observed here in Washington, D.C.

This year’s holiday dawned with a hypothermia alert in effect, meaning the freezing temperatures posed a risk to survival. During such times, shelter providers are required to allow shelter residents to stay indoors until the alert is called off by the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

When the alert was suddenly canceled at 9 a.m. disgruntled, tired residents made their way outside. The shuttle bus that usually comes earlier in the morning did not appear.  The alleys where we stood seemed lonely and unforgiving. One by one the residents made their way out of the area. Some walked. This reporter caught the Metro.


I found myself heading to the annual parade over in Southeast Washington. This year, hopeful candidates for the April mayoral primary were trying to grab the spotlight but they could not smooth over feelings of disrespect. Many Washingtonians come the Martin Luther King parade to watch their children march, twirl batons and play instruments in the parade. Yet it was hard for me not to think of the more than one dozen neighborhood schools that were recently closed. Kaya Henderson, the D.C. schools chancellor. She defended her decision to close them, saying they were underperfoming. But some residents miss those schools. And what happened to those school bands, and those kids, I wondered?


I headed downtown to the Martin Luther King Jr. Library.

The usual gathering place for the homeless was closed – for the holiday. Without anywhere to go, the homeless community was left to simply move from area to area,  in a vain search for a  place to rest. What would Dr. King have said about his day?