For the past week, a particularly tragic and entirely preventable drama has unfolded in Washington, DC involving an encampment of some 60 people who are homeless. Ironically many of the tents being used and later destroyed by DC Waste Management were donated to homeless persons by a former DC Waste Management employee, but that's another story. This particular encampment sprung up within view of the Watergate Apartments and offended the sensibilities of the residents who complained to the city to do something about this unsightly and unsanitary encampment. You can see for yourself in the photo above just how unsightly and horrible this was to look at. Mayor Muriel Bowser was quick to respond that the matter would be taken care of. I cannot begin to capture the chronology of this fiasco nearly as well as the staff from StreetSense. So follow this link for the complete story along with photos and interviews.
Mayor Bowser's Deputy Mayor was sent to do the dirty work of evicting these people and becoming the face of DC's inhumane treatment of its homeless citizens. She repeatedly asserted that shelter space was available and "the people who were homeless had options." That statement, in its simplicity, speaks to the insanity of the policy towards the thousands of unsheltered men and women living on the streets in DC. The shelters as they are currently maintained are dirty, bed bug infested, dangerous places where one is likely to be robbed, assaulted and left with none of the possessions you once had. Can anyone be surprised that living in a clean and well cared for tent is preferable? The Mayor and her army of behavioral health specialists don't seem to get this. Perhaps they don't actually talk to people who are homeless to find out why they live on the street. Have a look at a few of my photos from the " Invisible One's of Washington, DC" project. That will get you in the right frame of mind. Then read a few of their stories and note the ones that prefer to live on the streets because the shelters are so terrible.
If Mayor Bowser really wanted to end homelessness in Washington, DC she could have and would have stopped the arbitrary destruction of this tent encampment that was harming no one. Instead, just as the nighttime temperatures were dropping to below freezing, people who were homeless were given the choice to go to an undesirable and dangerous shelter or be on the street. Instead, the Big Lie is perpetuated, promises are broken and people who are homeless are once again on the streets. Why is no one asking the Mayor about spending the money necessary to ensure clean, safe and adequately supervised shelters for the thousands of men and women on the streets of Washington, DC. Why are parcels of land and city-owned buildings sold to the highest bidding developer rather than repurposed for shelter space. I have long felt that the answer to this question is quite simply, people who are homeless are invisible. They have no voice, they are no one's constituents, they do not vote, they do not donate to political campaigns and they are considered as "less than." Until that mindest changes in the city administration, the Big Lie will continue as public policy.