Washington DC’s failed policy to shelter the homeless.

All of the people pictured in this photo gallery are part of my ongoing photo documentary project known as “The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC.” All of these photographs were made within the last year. The first three images were made on 5-9-17 at the L Street overpass in NOMA. All of the images were made within a few blocks of First & L Streets in the NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC. The signage from the city warning that a forced cleanup will happen on or anytime after the posted date is interesting. Anyone who has lived in a street tent or makeshift shelter on the sidewalk has experienced this process. The city makes a big deal out of saying that these sweeps are for public health and the safety of the tent dwellers. Anthony, pictured above, was cleaning up his living space, removing paper trash, and sweeping the sidewalk when I met him. Compared to some streets in the city, this one is immaculate because those who live here keep it that way. I asked Anthony, who has been homeless in DC for six years, about the upcoming sweep. He tells me what everyone who lives on the street already knows, “the city will make us move on to some place else. Everyone will relocate to someplace nearby and we’ll do it all again in the future.” The city will make a production out of offering shelter space to these folks. No one will go to a filthy, dangerous, crowded city shelter. Living in a tent is a far preferable option. Everyone knows this but the city insists that “shelter is available.” These sweeps and forced relocations are harassment pure and simple. The goal is “out of sight and out of mind.”

What isn’t available and is at the core of DC’s failed homeless policy is affordable public housing. For years Mayor Muriel Bowser has been touting her commitment to ending homelessness in DC. This has become nothing more than a cruel joke to those living on the streets without permanent shelter. Over the past two months, the Washington Post has published three scathing articles exposing the incompetence of the Bowser administration with respect to the homeless crisis in the city. The first on March 17th, detailing a city auditor’s report about mismanaged funds in the city’s affordable housing program. The second on April 16th, detailing how a homeless family seeking shelter in DC was given a bus ticket to North Carolina. A must read. The third and most reprehensible is the story that DC forfeited 15.8 million dollars in Federal funds for affordable housing over the past three years because of the city missing application deadlines.  How’s that even possible for a Mayor who has made ending homelessness a centerpiece of her administration? As they say on the streets, “It is what it is.”

Those living on the streets without shelter are no one’s constituents, they don’t vote, they don’t contribute to campaigns, they just try to survive. Shame on you Mayor Bowser. Just remember come election time, that what goes around comes around.

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