Colleen Cosgriff

In a city that has declared itself to be a ‘human rights city,’ there are still unfortunate lost lives of people that are facing or currently experiencing housing instability: a form of extreme poverty known to all as homelessness.

The People for Fairness Coalition held its third annual homeless vigil December 17 – 18. This vigil included a casket, candlelight procession and an overnight challenge to commemorate those who have died on the street. This event brings together advocates from all walks of life. These strong fighters bring their energy and their demands right to the front door of city hall, the John A. Wilson Building.

Albert Townsend, who is also an employee at Miriam’s Kitchen, asked the vigil crowd to call the shelter hotline if they see people in need. He also asked communities to embrace future shelters. Earlier this year Mayor Bowser expressed her interest in closing the embattled DC General family shelter. Townsend’s call echoed most advocates concerned about possible NIMBYism.

The advocates then marched down to Freedom Plaza, where the overnight challenge was to take place. They called housing a way to save lives and emphasized the message that “housing is a human right.”

“We will continue to do as much as we can, and I won’t stop until we have ended homelessness in the District of Columbia,” said Briane Nadeau, the only council member to attend Thursday’s events. “If we don’t hear from you, then we forget. We need you to show up and remind us every single day that if someone is experiencing homelessness, it is not just a cut or a bruise, it is impacting your life. I want to make sure in my role on the council that you get what you need.”

Nadeau also urged the participants to continue to produce actions and invited them to come to the council meetings and testify. “We hear you loud and clear,” she said.

The People for Fairness Coalition challenged its attendees to take the overnight challenge. This included actually sending the night on Freedom Plaza, living like their extremely impoverished counterparts. It does take a strong will to sleep on unforgiving concrete. Most give up.

Robert Williams urged those gathered to remember that homeless people are people. This year marks the death of forty one people in the District of Columbia that have died without the dignity of a home. Even so, it sends a loud message to the community at large. The challenge is to produce housing in the community that those who are living in poverty can access, barrier-free.

Washington is a changing city and nights like tonight remind us that there are less fortunate people out there, as well as people who care.

“It’s a shame to see an old lady sleeping on bags on my way back and forth to work every day,” said PFC Executive Director Robert Warren, who is also an employee of George Washington Hospital. “If you save one life, just one life, it is as if you have saved the world.”