I hereby give my express permission for the following to be published on any and all printed and on-line publications including but not limited to newspapers, websites, blogs and forwarded e-mails. Please distribute widely, as the following is a true and accurate account of DC Mayor Adrian Fenty's actions against the homeless.....

(This is intended to become a STREET SENSE article, though I suppose it will not appear in the 9/16 issue but will be in the 9/30 issue.)


In a recent STREET SENSE article I pointed out that the homeless often have "no place to go". This article can be seen as an addendum to that.

I came out of the subway system at Judiciary Square just before noon on Wednesday, September 9th, having used the 4th Street exit. As I walked from the escalator toward 4th street, I saw several homeless people speaking to a HAWK ONE security guard who was doing a glorified disclaimer by telling people that he only carries out the orders that are handed down to him. As I listened, I was able to ascertain that the homeless people had been told that they had to leave the large restaurant on the first floor of the One Judiciary Square government office building. As the conversation continued, several PROTECTIVE SERVICES cops walked up -- just one at first and then 3 more several minutes later.

The several homeless people that were involved in the discussion often eat at Thrive DC which is right across the road. From what I was able to gather, they entered the restaurant -- some of them having baggage with them -- and sat down. Some bought food and/or drink and others didn't. They were told that if they weren't buying that they'd have to go. They were made to go out into the bad weather, with it drizzling off and on that day until about 2 PM. One of the homeless was a pregnant woman. There are claims that the cops were overly aggressive as they told people to leave. An officer had supposedly threatened to body slam the pregnant woman as he made them leave the porch earlier that morning as the restaurant prepared to open. During this latter incident, only those who looked homeless were being made to leave. Though the security officer claimed that only those who hadn't purchased anything were being made to leave, the homeless claimed that even those who had made purchases were being put out and that one man had been prevented from purchasing and was made to leave. The homeless who were offended during this incident, claim that there were others -- some homeless -- who didn't look the part and weren't made to leave, though they hadn't purchased anything.

During the conversation, the HAWK ONE officer said that the rule is that, when you buy something, you have 15 to 20 minutes to sit down and eat it and then must leave. In response I asked him,"Do you enforce that 15 to 20 minute rule with everyone or just the homeless? Do you tell everyone that they must leave after they're through eating or just the homeless?" He responded by talking about the many bags that some people bring in. This sounds like a move directed at just the homeless. They were put out of the restaurant irrespective of whether or not they had purchased there.

I also want to point out that, as the officer whom I was told is named OFFICER GREEN arrived, he was not in a talking mood. He just walked up as others of us were having a somewhat productive and respectful conversation with the other cops and said with an assertive attitude,"Have a nice day". As I tried to explain that I had not been part of the situation in the restaurant and that I am a homeless advocate, he repeated himself so as to make it clear that he was in no mood for conversation. He was impossible to reason with.

All of this goes to show that the homeless are being dehumanized by society and relegated to the level of second-rate citizens. However, I would find out on the following day that this incident was the result of an executive order that had been handed down by the mayor.

Mayor Fenty failed to show up at a community meeting which was held by residents of the poor Trinidad neighborhood on Friday, September 4th. However, he was able to attend another community meeting at the First District police station which was attended by well-to-do members of the business community. During this latter meeting, business owners complained to the mayor about the presence of homeless people in and around their businesses. They told the mayor that he was able to decrease the presence of homeless people near the businesses in Franklin Square by closing Franklin School Shelter and asked if he could do something similar for this group of entrepreneurs. Mayor Fenty responded by giving police the order to clean the homeless out from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station eastward to Union Station and southward toward Capitol Hill. The security officer had only been following orders after all.

During that meeting, Mayor Fenty also said that he wants to send any homeless person who is not from Washington, DC back to where they came from. This is reminiscent of moves made by New York mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. This begs the question: If a thousand homeless Washingtonians are made to return to their birthplace in New York and the same number of homeless New Yorkers are made to return to their birthplace in DC, what has the city gained? At some point we must stop doing the homeless shuffle and just solve the problem.

What's noteworthy in all of this is the sheer ignorance of the police and others when it comes to the plight of the homeless. (That's not to speak of the apathy or the I'm-just-doing-my-job mentality.) I'm sure that many officers don't know that the homeless people whom they wake and tell to move on couldn't get into a shelter due to there being a shortage and might not have slept for a day or more because they couldn't find an adequate place to sleep. Ironically, sleep deprivation is seen as a form of torture when U.S. soldiers inflict it on Middle-Eastern enemy combatants but not when cops and security guards inflict it on American homeless people. The difference is that, while the soldiers are deliberately forcing their prisoners to stay awake, the homeless are often being kept awake through a combination of disassociated circumstances which include the police enforcing no-loitering ordinances and there being no place for the homeless to go in lieu of the shelter shortage.

The homeless are being pushed to the limit, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Some of the problems with which they are faced have been created by a mayor who is becoming more openly antagonistic toward them. Others are the result of a faulty system wherein so many different people have held a particular office and left their footprint that one can't logically blame a single official for the problems being experienced by the underprivileged. The latter concern makes accountability nearly impossible. It is also the reason that the rank and file gets the brunt of people's anger when, in fact, that anger should be directed at the public officials who handed down the inhumane orders.

The homeless are victims of objective circumstances as well as policies that target them and add insult to injury. In Washington, DC the average rent for a one-bedroom is $1,400/month. If your rent shouldn't exceed 30% of your gross income, you'd need to make over $4,500/month or about $28/hour. However, the minimum wage in DC is always $1 more than the federal minimum, which puts it at less than $10/hour. Some of the homeless work but still can't afford a place to stay. Add to this the fact that housing programs and shelters are being closed across the city while affordable housing returns to market rate. As if that's not enough, people are losing jobs left and right and becoming homeless, creating the need for more -- not less -- shelter. So, when the homeless are awakened for sleeping in a public place, told to move along or even forced out of town by their mayor it is easy to see why they would get frustrated and feel mistreated. When will we demand the same level of humane treatment for our nation's homeless that we demand for those of other nations?

That said, things seem to building toward a major confrontation between the homeless and city officials, though it wouldn't be completely without precedent. Given the option of not sleeping or sleeping in a jail cell, some would choose the latter. Faced with the dilemma of having no food or jail food, the choice is an obvious one. When made to choose between being made to move along throughout the course of the day or sit in a jail cell, some would rather sit. All in all, going to jail is beginning to look like a move upward and something to be aspired to. This is presumably another result of ignorance on the part of our public officials. It is also a recipe for open conflict -- much like the open conflict between the homeless operating under the leadership of Mitch Snyder and the Reagan administration. The primary difference is that this time around the antagonist has a different name -- Adrian Fenty.

NOTE: Within the next few days I will blog about why I no longer have the job which you hear me speaking about in my latest video.


Anonymous said…
I used to notice quite a few homeless people around Chinatown/Gallery Place. Now I don't see as many. There are still panhandlers around who are either ignored outright or someone buys them a sandwich. There was an incident I remember of young and somewhat obnoxious white girl who offered an elderly black panhandler her sandwich which she had bitten into instead of spare change and was actually arguing with him when he would accept the half eaten sandwhich. I thought what the hell is wrong with this girl? Would you want a half eaten sandwich? If she was so afraid that the panhandler was going to use it to buy dope or booze with it she could went back to the place where she got her sandwich and got one for the dude. I'll admit to not really giving away money when people ask for it on the street, but I just wouldn't have been that callous. It's like scraping off your dinner plate in a dog's dish. This man was a human being and so what if he got spare change and got some wine or a can of beer to ease his troubles if only for a moment. The mayor is trying to gain some political capital in the same fashion as Guiliani, I mean that's obvious. He's going to lose his base support in the process and he's making a Faustian bargain that may payoff for him. Unfortunately that's politics. He can at present afford to ignore the homeless problem. The thing about it is not enough people care. When you have a job and things are working out you really don't think about the people on the side of the road who get left behind.

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