Family and neighbors gathered at the John Philip Sousa Bridge underpass on Feb. 20 to celebrate the life of Angela Hill, a 58-year-old mother and grandmother, who died of natural causes Feb.17. She had lived at the underpass, which leads to I-295, for at least 10 years, according to her daughter, Ashley Brown.
Over 100 people attended the Saturday evening vigil to honor Hill. Several community members referred to Hill as a “fixture” in the community, including Kip Banks, a pastor at the East Washington Baptist Church. He also led part of the service. Several family members and neighbors shared stories with the crowd, lit candles, and laid flowers in Hill’s memory at the vigil.
“Whenever you pass under this underpass, remember Ms. Angela,” Banks said to the crowd at the event.
Hill lived with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for decades, Brown said. She also refused to go to homeless shelters. Hill made the underpass her home, sleeping on a mattress surrounded by blankets and items brought by neighbors and family in the Hillcrest area. Other times she would decline items or throw supplies into the street.
“Despite illness and despite her cussing people out, deep inside my mom was so sweet and loving and loved by her family,” Brown said. “She would honestly do anything in her power to keep people happy. And she loved her siblings. She loved her children. And I know she would have loved her grandchildren. And I just want to remember her as just my mom, not the part where she’s ill. I just wish people knew the real her.”
Sybil Taylor, a vendor with Street Sense Media, had interacted with Hill for years prior to her death. Riding the 30N or 30S bus, Taylor would pass Hill at the underpass of the John Philip Sousa Bridge. Taylor passed Hill while riding the bus the day she passed away where Hill was laying down at her usual spot. Taylor said she and others on the bus were worried about Hill because of the cold. Taylor found out later that Hill had died.
“She was just laid out, asleep. So, I thought she was sleeping,” Taylor said. “And then when I got the news that she had died, it really shocked me because that’s the last time I’ve seen her out there.”
Taylor would often see Hill at the Citgo gas station on Pennsylvania Ave. SE near the underpass, where Hill would speak to neighbors and get supplies. She was “famous” there, Taylor said.
“She was liked by the whole community. The whole community liked her,” Taylor said.
Brown and her brother, Angel Hill, were removed from Hill’s care in the 1990s. But before that time, Brown said she remembered nice moments, like walking around the playground at Moten Elementary, watching television, playing puzzles together and “a lot of girls time” with her mom and Michelle Hill, Brown’s aunt and Hill’s sister.
After Brown and her brother went into foster care, she said Hill would still try and find her and her brother. Brown and her brother were adopted for a few years when she was young and remembers her mother going to the residence for Brown and her brother.
“I heard a knock at the door, and it was her,” Brown said. “And she came looking for me and my brother. And, of course, like he (her adoptive parent) called the police because she got belligerent and she wanted to get us from him. And she couldn’t, legally she couldn’t.”
Many residents would bring Hill, food, water, deodorant and other supplies. Meherent Mellese brought Hill a cart with supplies years ago — she had passed Hill every day on her way to work. Hill had initially pushed her away. Mellese said she saw Hill use the cart later. Many residents shared similar experiences at the vigil.
“I always thought we should’ve understood and tried to find ways to help her,” Mellese said. “Just last week, I was thinking to bring her more [supplies]. But I always thought ‘Tomorrow will always be there.’”
The cause of Hill’s death was pulmonary embolus, or a blood clot in the lungs, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
In 2020, 180 people experiencing homelessness in the District died, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Twenty-three of them died as a result of COVID-19, as did two more people this year, according to the D.C. Department of Human Services. At least seven people experiencing homelessness have died in D.C. in 2021.
There was an additional service a week later for Hill, organized by Jewel Stroman and Tiff Aziz. A GoFundme has also been established to help support the family.