As recently as late last month, area homeless people found shelter beneath an overhang at 1401 New York Avenue, Northwest. Now, after the intervention of management, the area is empty and shows no signs that 10 people once slept there.
The homeless who sought refuge under the overhang have had a rocky relationship with the building owners and tenants, according to building manager Pierre Rahal.
“It’s just getting worse and worse,” said Rahal. “It has been an ongoing struggle.”
The ground level is occupied by a Quizno’s, Starbucks, Jem’s Optical and AT&T. In front, a wide overhang that runs the length of the block and around the side sheltered the homeless for at least the past few months.
However, three weeks ago, building officials told people camping there to move.
Pam Morrison was sleeping under the overhang at the time.
“I hadn’t been sleeping there very long,” she said. “But it was long enough to be comfortable.”
Morrison and some of the others moved to the side of the building, which still has an overhang, but no shop fronts. After this movement, a man went into Morrison’s belongings and threatened her before she yelled at him and he ran away.
“Before, there were no problems with people,” she said. “Now I feel a little bit unsafe.”
According to Rahal, the owners of the building, multinational company Wereldhave, Inc., “have instructed a zero-tolerance policy [against vagrants].”
“The tenants had written it in,” Rahal said. “It has been sporadic, but has been happening for a long time.” He added that the building is private property and that the homeless sleeping there were unsanitary to everyone on the premises. Rahal also said that tenants have been abused and yelled at by them.
Morrison has denied this, although she reported rumors that someone from the shops had asked for their removal. Workers from all four shops on the ground level said they never had any serious problems.
“They’re pretty nice,” said a Quizno’s employee. “We never had any freak-outs.”
The only problem, a Jem’s Optical employee said, was a man who sat in front of the door. Even that, according to him, was not a significant issue.
AT&T workers reported the same. “They’d have their little set-ups, which would get in the way of end-of-the-night customers,” an employee said. She recalled no customer complaints or any management requests to remove them.
A Starbucks employee was in agreement, saying that the homeless were there in the early morning, but there were no complaints that he knew of.
Rahal said that the homeless were interfering with the building’s running.
“In many ways, they dirty it up,” he said.
Morrison said that she and the others always cleaned up after themselves. “We’re gone during the day,” she said. “Everybody goes walking around.”
A worker for the Downtown BID (Business Improvement District) who does maintenance and safety for the streets, who wished to be referred to only by the first name of Lorin, said that the homeless often leave behind items.
“They left cardboard and their other stuff,” she said.
Rumors swirled around the homeless community, Morrison said, that Mayor Fenty had a role in the displacement, although the mayor’s office did not respond to e-mails or phone calls.
Department of Human Services spokeswoman Cheryl Holliday stated outright that they had nothing to do with it.
“We would encourage them not to loiter,” she said, and to accede to the building manager’s wishes.
Currently, D.C. has no anti-loitering laws, although private property laws are in effect with the building. Parts of the sidewalk underneath the overhang are in use by the businesses, putting it in the building’s property.
The building receptionist maintained that the management was within its right to ask the homeless to leave.
Initially, some reports said that the homeless under the overhang had encountered people who wanted them removed before, but that management had interceded on their behalf, as long as they cleaned up after themselves.
Rahal denied the claim.
“I’ve never allowed it,” he said.
Currently no homeless people sleep under the overhang. Morrison, however, says not everyone has taken the displacement notice to heart.
“There are some people who don’t want to abide by it,” she said. “But nothing’s happened to them.”
The rejection of the homeless at 1401 New York Ave NW was a right for the building owners, according to Rahal.
“We just cannot allow it for safety reasons,” he said.