How The City Might Shut Down The Tent City @ 7th And R Streets NW (Unless We Stop Them)

The tent city at the intersection of 7th, R and Rhode Island in northwest DC is over 3 weeks old now. Many people are surprised to see that it hasn't been shut down by the city yet. It is firmly believed that Mayor Fenty doesn't want the images of protesters being arrested for defending their human right to housing plastered all over people's T.V. screens and that that may be the reason for the longevity of the camp. Let's bear in mind that he is fighting for his political life and that such images could be his political death knell. Some of us were actually anticipating getting arrested and that may still be a prospect.

On the evening of July 30th, a DC Government employee named Pat Handy stopped by the tent city. She works for DC Government's Dept. of Human Services as the Homeless Outreach Manager. She is the troubleshooter for various homeless services. She managed the process on September 10th, 2008, as Franklin School Shelter residents were made to sign papers stating that they knew about the impending closure of Franklin. (Some people stood in the check-in line for 5 hours that night.) She managed the process the next morning as 50 or so Franklin residents were placed quickly (and in some cases haphazardly) in Permanent Supportive Housing. She was the one who was called to tell the homeless people at 14th and NY Ave. that they couldn't sleep on the 14th street side of the building anymore (right after a homeless person was seen on T.V. testifying against Fenty and his administration). And now she might be the one to close the tent city. However that is not a clearly cut-and-dry determination.

Pat stopped by the tent city on her motor scooter around 9:30 PM. She explained that she had seen the tent city while on her way to U Street and decided to stop in on her return trip. She asked me why we were there and I explained that it was in protest to Mayor Fenty's broken promise to build affordable housing there. She called someone on her cell phone, though I don't know who. She then said,"I hope they don't send me to close this down".

Pat explained the process that would occur if she were to shut down the tent city: If someone in the neighborhood complains about the tent city, then Pat will be contacted. She would then post a 14-day notice at the tent city. On the 14th day, she would return with the Dept. of Public Works and have them to tear down and dispose of everything.

Pat Handy also explained to me that, so long as the tent city seems to be nothing more than a "homeless encampment", it is her duty to shut it down. However, if the tent city is categorized as a "political action", it is no longer her job to deal with it. (My guess is that responsibility for dealing with the "protesters" goes to the Special Operations division of the Metropolitan Police Dept.) This just goes to show how classist our government is -- how it is that they divide people into different classes and then bestow different levels of privilege and punishment upon them, in effect using a double (...or triple...or quadruple...) standard. That said, it behooves us to remain "political" insomuch as that seems to be buying us time. (Even those who are there merely due to being homeless and needing a place to sleep can gain -- in more ways than one -- by posing as political protesters.)

One of the things that stands out to me is the fact that someone in the neighborhood has to complain. On the one hand, the city could lie and say that someone complained. This would give them the pretext that they need to move in and shut it down. On the other hand, we could make friends with the neighborhood, gain their support and have them alongside us to protest the closure on the 14th day.

Then there is the 14-day notice. That gives us plenty of time to contact the media and to have people who want to retrieve their belongings come and do so. It also gives us time to mobilize people to protest and to call Fenty on the carpet about his broken promises, his failure to meet with his poorer constituents and his failure to provide a sufficient amount of affordable housing as well as other needs of the not-so-well-off community.

Those of us who have been involved over the past 3 weeks and during the planning phase have discussed our demands on the Fenty administration which include an interim use for the land while we wait for construction to begin on the promised 94 units of affordable housing. The ideas include an eco-village and a community garden. Some of us plan to reach out to the Shaw community to get their input on what the interim use for Parcel 42 should be. This process should be expedited due to this most recent development.

I'd like to remind you of the fact that the tent city is run by donations. There are a few homeless people staying there. But those of us who are confronting the mayor about his broken promises remain involved (with me fitting into both groups). Donations have gone toward the purchase of water, ice, food and hardware. Feel free to call or e-mail me for info on how to donate. Cell: (240) 305-5255. E-mail: ericsheptock@yahoo.com .

My Meeting With The Mayor:

On the morning of Monday, August 2nd at 10:45 AM there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Watha T. Daniels Public Library which is across the street diagonally from the Tent City. There were over 100 people in attendance -- among them: Mayor Fenty, Council Chairman Vincent Gray and Councilmen Harry "Tommy" Thomas, Jr.(Ward 5); Jim Graham (Ward 1) and Jack Evans (Ward 2 -- where the library and tent city are). Coincidentally, the podium from which they each spoke was positioned so that it was facing the tent city -- which was a victory in and of itself. It was impossible for them not to notice their poorer constituents now -- if only for a short time.

After the ceremony I was able to waylay the mayor as several of my fellow-tent city/affordable housing supporters and others who wanted to speak to the mayor stood nearby. I told him that ONE DC (the organization that began the tent city) still wanted him to keep his 2007 promise to put 94 units of affordable housing on Parcel 42 and that the affordability rate should be tiered so that people who make 25 to 50% of the AMI (Area Median Income) can live there. I told him that the original plan called for 110 units of affordable housing and then was lowered to 94 units and then to 54 units. I also told him that, most recently, I'd been told that he nixed the plans for affordable housing and planned to build condos there. I asked him if that was true, to which he said, "No." I asked Fenty if he was still committed to putting affordable housing there, to which he said,"Yes". I pointed northward across R Street to the Lincoln Westmoreland II Apts. which are presently HUD housing and told him that they are about to go co-op, thus leaving the public housing stock. Then I pointed northeastward at the tent city and told him that he broke his promise to put affordable housing there -- that the Shaw neighborhood would lose a large number of public housing units as well as the promised affordable housing, to which he said, "No promises were broken".

Aside from his aforementioned pat answers, Mr. Fenty just looked at me with a grim look as I spoke. He then said, "I've answered all of your questions and now I need to speak to others." I refuted,"No you didn't" and asked,"When are they going to begin construction on the affordable housing?" Fenty told me to speak to the project manager for further details. I told him that ONE DC and others still wanted to meet with him and that our one-on-one conversation doesn't count as the meeting that we've been asking for. With that, he moved on and began to speak to the others who were gathered around him.

I didn't leave that conversation with any more information than I had going into it. Nonetheless, the mayor was confronted about the need for affordable housing one more time. But, most importantly, the impoverished community of our nation's capital is one step closer to realizing that the government (at any level -- federal, state or local) is not going to be there for them and that they must look in another direction for relief from their state of destitution -- revolution.

In closing, I must say that we haven't lost this fight and we won't so long as we stand our ground. In lieu of the mayor's apparent character flaws, immoral decisions and spurning of the poor, we are bound to garner much support for our cause. So let's continue to fight the good fight.

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On a lighter note, DC renters have won a long-fought battle to level the playing field in landlord-tenant court -- where landlords always win. DC now has Housing Conditions Court which is presided over by Judge Melvin R. Wright. Presently, HCC only convenes on Mondays at 9 AM. The court has only been functional since May 28th, 2010. Judge Wright is looking for community input pertaining to the needs of tenants and for help from concerned citizens to get the word out about the HCC. His office can be reached at: (202) 879-8336.


PRESS RELEASE: CIVIL RIGHTS BATTLE FOR DC’S HOMELESS CONTINUES IN FEDERAL COURT

Wednesday August 4th at 9:00 am
US District Court for D.C., 333 Constitution Ave., NW in Courtroom 16

Contacts: George Rickman (202) 723-3955
Jane Zara (202) 390-2449

Plaintiffs from Franklin Shelter will have a hearing on Wednesday, August 4th, concerning pending allegations of Fair Housing Act,
American with Disabilities Act & DC Human Rights Act violations. The need for this case to move forward increases daily. The most recent
point in time study released by Metro Washington Area Council of Governments indicates continued increases in the numbers of homeless
persons in the District of Columbia.

And while these numbers have increased, the availability of shelter space and permanent supportive
housing has remained stagnant and does not to begin to address the rising need. The result can be seen in a commensurate increase in the
number of unsheltered homeless-persons living on the street by 176 persons as detailed in the same MCOG report. Other reports and
anecdotal accounts not only confirm this statistical picture, but also reveal circumstances more injurious to the health and safety of greater
numbers of homeless persons than are indicated in the report.

Recent newspaper accounts report overcrowding at the District’s one family shelter, leaving some families with children either on the
street or living in uninhabitable conditions. The conditions and the numbers at the men’s shelters, while not widely reported, paint a
similar picture. Not only are the men forced to live in overcrowded conditions, for those who choose to stay at one of the city run
shelters, but care-providers report many who are displaced and estranged from the needed services. It is widely known that persons who
cannot provide a fixed address cannot obtain services from a service
provider.

An appeal on behalf of plaintiffs was argued in the DCCA and submitted to a panel of that Court on April 1, 2010. No opinion has been rendered by that Court,
and there is no basis to believe that the DCCA will render any opinion in the near future. There are no rules governing the
promptness with which the DCCA addresses matters before it, and there is nothing to suggest that they view this case with same urgency that
plaintiffs now face.

Homelessness itself is a degrading circumstance that often leaves emotional scars. “Living on the streets,” as some refer to the
unsheltered homeless, exacerbates these circumstances, and in and of itself, causes or worsens already debilitating mental illness. By not
providing ready access to much needed mental health services, physical treatment, and psycho-social counseling, the District not only violates
federal law, but also denies persons the basic human dignity owed to all members of our community.

After months if not years of promises, the District’s homeless remain in a precarious state either going to jail for minor offenses only to
return to the same circumstances that led to their arrest, or to wander the streets. Indeed, as plaintiffs spell out in their complaint by
removing persons from areas where much needed services are available the District defendants violate provisions of the Fair Housing Act, the
Americans with Disabilities Act, the D.C. Human Rights Act, and the United States Constitution.

Comments

Anonymous said…
give me break! shaw has more affordable housing than anywhere in the city. if you guys will get your a**es out of the way, the city is trying to build more! you are making your organization look ridiculous. thats why no one is paying attention!

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