Outside the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), residents of the homeless shelter will now have something fresh and colorful to look at: themselves.
A bright new mural was completed this week as part of a city beautification project that shows portraits of several of the current residents and staffers at the shelter, as well as the late activist and resident, Mitch Snyder.
Last Friday, several of the residents and staffers came out to watch local D.C. artist Rose Jaffe finish their portraits on the formerly drab and graffiti-prone wall between the Mitch Snyder Arts & Education Center and the Federal City Shelter building on 2nd and D Street Northwest.
“Oh, I feel great. It makes me feel like a celebrity,” said CCNV resident Katie Duckett, age 54 (“and I hope to live another 54”), as she watched the mural take shape. “I love to be on a wall for people to walk past. It makes me feel like a star.”
Katie said she has been a resident at CCNV for about six months and is hoping to move up to a staff position soon. All of the staff positions at the CCNV are filled by current or former residents of the shelter.
“Pigeons will love it,” publicity-shy Donald Page joked when asked how he felt about his face going up on the wall. Page said he has been the director of administrative services at the CCNV for about seven years.
As Jaffe outlined the faces of the mural, she told Street Sense she wanted to “draw attention to the increasingly intense issue that is homelessness in Washington, because it’s certainly not getting any better.”
“I think there’s a lot of great murals in D.C., but a lot of them are completely irrelevant to the space they occupy,” Jaffe said. “I wanted to do something that involved the community that this building has, and Mitch Snyder is such an integral activist, so I knew I wanted something with Mitch.”
Below the portraits is a protest scene showing figures holding up signs with slogans like “Homeless lives matter.”
Snyder staged a hunger strike in the ‘80s to secure the then-abandoned federal building from the Reagan administration for use as a shelter. He nearly died in the effort, but the government ceded control of the space and it went on to become one of the biggest homeless shelters in the country.
Azita Mashayekhi came up with the idea for a mural at the location last year during her daily commute to her job at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters up the street. “Over time I just thought, this wall was so desolate,” she said. “It’s just a bad scene. I just thought we could use some color.”
Mashayekhi began navigating the maze of government bureaucracy and got the attention of the Murals DC Project. Nancee Lyons, coordinator of Murals DC for the Department of Public Works, told Street Sense that it was a “perfect wall, perfect location” for a mural. “We’re trying to humanize the faces of homelessness,” Lyons said. “Everyone has a story of how they came to be where they are.”
However, the story of where the CCNV will go, as well as the 1000 or so single men and women who rely on it for a bed every night, is unclear. As previously reported by Street Sense, the federal requirement that the city use the building as a shelter expires this year, and the space is only mentioned once in a footnote in the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness’ 100-page report on the city’s five-year plan to end chronic homelessness in the District.
The question of why the city is dedicating resources to beautifying the outside of a shelter while the conditions inside continue to deteriorate and its future remains in limbo is unclear. Interagency Council on Homelessness Director Kristy Greenwalt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For now at least, the residents of the CCNV will no longer remain invisible in a city otherwise full of monuments and murals dedicated to the faces of the powerful.
“People should be remembered, and that’s the least we can do, to remind people who come here that other people care,” Mashayekhi said. “Sometimes you have to go to the government and push them.”