Photo of snow along the reflecting pool with the Washington Monument in the background.

Hypothermia, hyperthermia, being called lazy and being looked down upon are all things that we without housing face on a daily basis.  

Let me start off by introducing myself. My name is Reginald Black. Not only am I a Street Sense Media vendor and advocate, but I have also been recently appointed as a consumer representative to the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH). With a platform like this, it should be easy for those who are experiencing extreme poverty to have a voice, but I can’t speak to all the feelings and emotions that come with homelessness. I can only rely on what I see and feel as people walk past my peers.  

While there are great efforts underway, many of us feel the effects are not reaching us. This should not be the case in the District of Columbia. We the homeless do not see the benefit of all the tax money being spent on our behalf, since the demand for shelter for individuals hasn’t gone down. Many have been on the city’s housing voucher waiting list since the 1990s. I hope that I will not have to wait much longer, especially in a city doing many great things that I have been a part of creating.  

As an advocate, it pains me to see how our city is handling homelessness. Not only is homelessness detrimental to our community, but it also causes separation and isolation. No one should be without a place to live in the richest country in the world, and certainly not in its capital. We are making key investments into housing, and have now opened three of our new family facilities while planning redevelopment of an existing male shelter. But how this will go is anyone’s guess. The homeless population may go down but there will still be many who suffer from housing instability.  

Mayor Muriel Bowser came to the ICH’s last meeting of the year to review where we are going and what we have done. I asked her whether she had any ideas about accelerating the pace of people exiting the 801 East Men’s Shelter, which is slated for redevelopment. She agreed the residents there need permanent housing that will help them in the long run. But just a few weeks later, we learned a 32-year-old was one of at least 54 people who died due to homelessness and poverty in the District in 2018.  

I question what is next for those who are extremely impoverished and I want to work harder for solutions that really will make a dent in homelessness. The population is aging and something has to be done.  

The city is moving to make homelessness, rare, brief and non-recurring. However, we should work eliminate the root causes so that homelessness is nonexistent and non-occurring. To achieve this, there must be a universal right to housing that is truly affordable to all incomes. There can’t be any more people saying “You don’t make enough,” which is not inclusive to all walks of life. The phrase doesn’t help any community and needs not be uttered in a rich country like America. Being African American should not determine where I live. I should not have to be impoverished just because someone says so. I’m an artist and entrepreneur and I — like everyone else — deserve a stable place to live. 

I know that my skills are needed somewhere, and I am working toward my own fiscal independence. I hope that my efforts pay off and help others obtain much-needed housing and support that will make our city more attractive.  

Reginald Black is a Street Sense Media artist and vendor.