2021 Reporting

With pilot projects in place, backers look to mobilize support for a guaranteed income in DC

It was 2018 when the Rev. Wendy Hamilton, a 2022 candidate for DC delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, first learned about universal basic income (UBI). Hamilton, who has lived in DC since the late ‘80s but grew up in a small industrial town in Ohio, was reading a New York Times article that featured Andrew Yang, a presidential candidate for the 2020 Democratic primary who campaigned on UBI.

But proponents hope now is the time to rally support locally. In late September, Hamilton marched alongside approximately 50 residents and activists — including organizers of the DC UBI Coalition — to press Mayor Muriel Bowser to join a group of mayors across the country who have committed to supporting guaranteed income programs. Mayors in surrounding jurisdictions such as Alexandria, College Park and Takoma Park have publicly declared their support for such initiatives. The idea has also won the backing of mayors in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Denver, and Los Angeles, among many others.

By Will Schick | Read the full story

Street Reporter Chronicles the Work and Experience of a Street Sense Photojournalist

On Monday, a bulldozer at a NoMA encampment clearing picked up a man who was still inside a tent, reminding housed residents about the unsafe conditions unhoused folks face. As City Paper reported, the incident heightened concerns about how Mayor Muriel Bowser and District officials are running homeless encampment clearings throughout the District. On the heels of the event, City Paper took a look at how District residents who have experienced homelessness own their stories of struggle and empowerment. One such story is chronicled in the upcoming D.C.-based documentary Street Reporter, slated to screen in the District later this month. Co-starring Street Sense Media photojournalist Sheila White and SSM reporter Reggie Black, the doc follows White beginning in 2019, as she returns to school in her late 50s and pursues her journalism dreams while staying at a women’s shelter.

By Ambar Castillo | Read the full story

Chairman of D.C. Housing Authority Board okays questionable contracts for female companion

In 2018, and again in 2021, D.C. Housing Authority Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Neil O. Albert approved contracts totaling millions of dollars for a female companion whose architecture and design firm has failed to deliver on the first contract and is under-qualified for the second.

In neither case did the CEO of Moya Design, Paola Moya, disclose her personal relationship with Albert; nor did Albert disclose his personal relationship with Moya—even as he approved both awards in writing.

Observers say that Albert is allowing the city to take over DCHA’s public housing portfolio and spin it off to Bowser’s friends in the developer community so they can build mixed-use projects with so-called “affordable housing” units that are beyond the reach of residents who earn between zero and 30 percent of Area Median Income, known as “AMI.”

By Jeffrey Anderson | Read the full story

Round-up: Final removal of the NoMa underpass encampments

This one-day news “blitz” was organized more than a month in advance and centers around enterprise stories that highlight solutions, connect to people with lived expertise facing homelessness, and investigating persistent problems.

A core tenant of our collaboration is that we avoid duplicating each other’s story assignments to ensure we cover as many different aspects of poverty as possible.

However, outside of this project, unexpected events this week drove many local media outlet’s attention and underscored that homelessness is a crisis in our community.

Approximately 60 people were evicted from two underpasses near Union Station. While the stated goal of the closure was to make the sidewalks more accessible for pedestrians, concrete barriers were placed where the tents had been, making the space usable by no one. In one case, city workers picked up a tent with a front loader to dispose of it and a person was still inside. The person was pushed into a metal guard rail and taken away in an ambulance but reportedly returned to the area that night and was not injured. Whether they had been able to move in yet or not, only half of those displaced from the encampments had been connected to housing at the time of the closure. Some of those who did not receive housing moved to another encampment — a park at New Jersey Ave. and O St. NW — that is scheduled to be closed next month. And that night, a resident of the NJ and O encampment, which sits next to a fire station, died in a tent fire.

Here are stories produced by our partners:

Street Sense Media: DC government removes tents, injures one resident, houses others, and deploys concrete barriers to enforce a ‘pedestrian passageway’

Street Sense Media: DC is moving some encampment residents into housing. What about those not “on the list?”

DCist/WAMU: D.C. Suspends Clearing Of NoMa Encampments After Unhoused Person Hit By Bulldozer Driver

DCist/WAMU: Fire At D.C. Homeless Encampment Leaves One Person Dead

Axios DC: D.C. pauses homeless encampment clearing

Axios DC: No-tent zone resistance grows as city moves forward

Washington City Paper: Unhoused Man Picked Up By Bulldozer During Encampment Clearing

Greater Greater Washington: COMMENTARY: DC needs to get our house in order before we order people out of theirs
Georgetown Voice: D.C.’s new approach to public spaces leaves out encampment residents

GW Hatchet: D.C. officials pilot program to shut down E Street homeless encampment

Meet the neighborhood commissioners of Foggy Bottom who advocate for people experiencing homelessness

Each Friday, Yannik Omictin accompanies a group of community service volunteers and activists for a tour around Foggy Bottom to ask after the needs of the unsheltered residents living in the area. Omictin says that other elected members of ANC 2A join in on the evening treks with People for Fairness Coalition and Ward 2 Mutual Aid.

He and Evelyn Hudson, another commissioner on ANC 2A and a regular attendee of the weekly walks, are concerned with how the city plans to manage the new pilot program that connects unsheltered residents with housing vouchers while simultaneously evicting them.

By Will Schick | Read the full story

Struggles Faced by District’s Homeless Citizens Return to the Spotlight

As the D.C. courts gear up for a flood of eviction proceedings, many homeless and housing-insecure District residents continue to make last-ditch appeals to landlords, case workers and housing advocates to prevent their precarious conditions from worsening.

For one District resident, each new day brings uncertainty about whether she will remain in a District rapid rehousing program that, for six years, has allowed her to stay in increasingly expensive apartments at well below the market rate.

Thousands of District residents facing eviction have applied to STAY DC, a financial assistance program that covers rent and utility costs. However, the program has been mired in controversy for what’s been described as a convoluted application process.

Over the last few weeks, D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson (D) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) repeatedly clashed about the program.

By Sam P.K. Collins | Read the full story

D.C. Scrambled To Shelter Unhoused Residents In Hotels After COVID Hit. What Did We Learn From PEP-V?

Launched more than 18 months ago, the program places unhoused residents most at-risk of falling seriously ill if they contract COVID-19 into hotels leased out by the city’s Department of Human Services — an effort to prevent the transmission of coronavirus in the city’s congregate shelters.

Unlike the shelters, or a previous shelter-hotel housing service where residents reported poor conditions and abuse by contractors, providers and residents have reported markedly better results with PEP-V’s model. Residents have access to on-site medical care, in addition to their own bathroom and a quiet place to sleep.

PEP-V has been extended through the remainder of 2021, thanks to an extension of government funding, but its future beyond is unclear. City officials have previously said they wouldn’t extend the program after federal dollars run out.

By Colleen Grablick | Read the full story

With more flooding and excessive heat, extreme weather disproportionately causes health issues in unhoused populations

As extreme weather persists and increases nationally, floods, excessive heat and poor air quality in the District disproportionately harm those living outside, people of color and people living east of the Anacostia River.

Living outside or in poor housing conditions increases the risk of exposure to pests, insects, mold and extreme heat, all of which can accelerate health issues like asthma, according to Neil Boyer, who chairs NAACP DC’s Environmental and Climate Justice Committee. Health issues caused by poor living conditions also disproportionately affect Black residents in wards 5, 7 and 8, Boyer said.

“These are the kinds of things we need to look at when we’re linking climate change and illness — in an environmental justice perspective,” he explained.

By Kaela Roeder | Read the full story

D.C. is in the midst of a housing crisis. Advocates believe it doesn’t have to be.

There are thousands of unhoused people in Washington, D.C. There are also thousands of vacant apartments. For the founders of Vacant to Virus-Reduction (V2VR) the solution seems obvious: offer them the housing.

In spring of 2020, V2VR outlined a plan in which the D.C. government invests in the D.C. community by directly matching unhoused people with vacant, taxpayer trust fund-financed housing. Under current policy, the city allows these properties to remain vacant.

When V2VR was launched last year, there were 9,826 vacant units in D.C, according to an official count done by Costar Group. As of July 2021, that number had increased to 17,614.

By Margaret Hartigan and Deena Eichhorn | Read the full article

“Black lives are going to hell,” says resident flipping off DC’s Mayor

Mere hours after workers finished laying sod on the last Friday of September, elected officials, government staff, and D.C. residents attended a reopening ceremony for Franklin Park.

Bowser’s remarks were interrupted by Chandra Brown, an unhoused woman, who sat in the front row next to the VIP guests.  While the mayor was speaking, Brown’s demeanor changed and she began to yell. The interjection did not appear to be a reaction to any specific comment.

“Black Lives Matter [is] going to Hell!” yelled Brown. She commented on her struggle to get help for housing, healthcare, and freedom from police harassment, but after a few sentences, she was whisked out of her seat by a woman who identified herself as a fellow D.C. resident.

By Gordon Chaffin | Read the full story

For ‘Wine Down Jazz Night’ Host, Helping Unhoused Single Mothers Is Personal

Skyler Kelley, 27, began hosting Wine-Down Jazz Nights a year ago as a way to support people like her: single mothers who’ve experienced or are experiencing homelessness in D.C. Kelley often asks ticket holders to bring donations for gift cards to the supermarket Aldi and supplies like diapers and wipes to hand out to mothers in need. But the jazz nights are just a prequel to a set of grander ambitions, including her goal of becoming a “social entrepreneur,” running her own nonprofit and coffee shop, and of inspiring other women to follow in her footsteps.

When she’s not serving up coffee as a barista at Peregrine Espresso in Union Market, the Germantown, Md. resident is fundraising for the future Brij Coffeehouse & Juicebar, a coffee shop of her own she plans to open in Northeast D.C., if things go her way.

By Elliot C. Williams | Read the full story

How DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy Corners program helps bring fruits and vegetables to DC’s ‘food apartheid areas’

Certainly, the square footage dedicated to fresh produce at Chesapeake Big Market is minimal compared to the volume of space in the front of the store occupied by alcohol and tobacco products. But by offering any amount of fresh fruit and vegetables at all as a participant in DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy Corners program, the market serves an essential role in bringing healthy food to Washington Highlands, which lacks a big-name, full-service grocery store.

“A lot of families come down here in the morning, they buy fruits for the kids when they go to school, so they don’t have to travel far away just for the fruits,“ says Kassaye. “When they can just get it right in the neighborhood, you know, that’s just going to eliminate [needing to] travel far away just to get fruit.”

By Bridget Reed Morawski | Read the full story

After Chaotic Week, DC Program to House Encampment Residents Comes Under Scrutiny

DC plans to evict the residents of the Shaw park encampment next month, so Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) Wayne Turnage and pilot program lead Jamal Weldon attended ANC 6E’s meeting earlier this week to provide an update on the plans for the park and what will be done to avoid repeating the mistakes made earlier in the week.

The tentative eviction date is November 4th, although the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) intends to give 30 days’ notice ahead of time and had not yet done so as of the Tuesday ANC meeting. Weldon noted that among the changes DMHHS is making to keep encampment residents safe in the future are to have a tighter police perimeter around sites while evictions are taking place and to do more tent checks.

By Nena Perry-Brown | Read the full article

Locals deliver essentials to local homeless residents through mutual aid relief

After spending the day working with elementary and middle school students as an art teacher at a local public school, Kyle Scadlock spends most Fridays walking around Foggy Bottom, handing out supplies to individuals experiencing homelessness.

He said helping unhoused neighbors has been a focus of his since moving to D.C. last July. “It’s about supporting our community and especially people that don’t have basic human rights, like shelter, water, food as a result of failed government and failed policy,” Scadlock said.

Scadlock is one of more than a dozen volunteers who participate in weekly outreach to homeless residents in Foggy Bottom on behalf of Ward 2 Mutual Aid, an organization that works to support community members in vulnerable situations, like homelessness or unemployment.

By Zachary Blackburn | Read the full story

In Fight Against Homelessness, Advocates Say Tax Hike On Wealthy Is ‘Gamechanger’

Homelessness advocates say that even before the pandemic, D.C. resources for housing programs weren’t able to keep pace — especially with those experiencing chronic homelessness. They say the tax increase can make a dent; it’s expected to fund 2,400 additional housing vouchers over the next year alone, a four-fold increase over recent years, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

“For people who are concerned about encampments and folks who are experiencing homelessness, this is probably one of the most important things we’ve ever done to end it,” says Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), one of the authors of the tax increase.

According to a breakdown from Nadeau’s office, almost half of the 2,400 units funded by the revenue from the tax increase will be directed to Permanent Supportive Housing for individuals, which advocates say will address some of the hardest-to-help people experiencing homelessness.

By Martin Austermuhle | Read the full story

COMMENTARY: Is DC serious about producing and preserving enough affordable housing?

Ask that question of most DC tenants and the answer is sure to be a resounding no — although last week Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off her annual feast for developers to entice more affordable housing projects. Using federal and local tax dollars, and with the approval of the DC Council, her administration could spend as much as $400 million from the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) to construct and preserve affordable housing.

Despite that historic investment, few believe the money ultimately will help those who are at the extremely low-income level. “It’s a game; it’s almost a scam,” said Robert Leardo, co-chair of TENAC, a citywide tenant advocacy organization that has been at the forefront of affordable housing issues in DC for more than two decades.

By jonetta rose barras | Read the full column

Homelessness and DC’s housing shortage are part of the same conversation

Housing affordability and homelessness have a direct link. Nan Roman, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, told CityLab in 2020 that while mental illness and substance disorders existed before, the major societal change that coincided with widespread modern homelessness was a rise in the cost of housing.

Research bears out that link. A 2018 Zillow study found that areas where people spend more than a third of their income on rent experience more rapid increases in homelessness.

By Libby Solomon | Read the full analysis

Unhoused People Experience Anti-Homeless Architecture in Georgetown

Hostile architecture blocks unhoused people from sleeping and using bathrooms, among other necessities, throughout the Georgetown neighborhood.

Examples of hostile architecture include park benches with partitions that make it impossible for someone to lie down and sleep or metal spikes on a heating grate that prevent people from sitting or lying on it to warm themselves. In an effort to contribute to existing documentation of hostile architecture throughout Washington, D.C., The Hoya identified multiple instances of anti-homeless design in the Georgetown neighborhood.

By Paige Kupas | Read the full story

‘Trying To Chase A Train’: Fairfax’s Effort To Vaccinate Unhoused Residents

There are roughly 1,200 unhoused residents in Fairfax County, according to the county’s January 2021 point-in-time count. The total number fluctuates significantly over time, as people enter and leave the county and the seasons change.

Getting COVID-19 vaccines to this transient — and highly vulnerable — population is a major challenge for public health staff.

The job can be especially hard in the suburbs. Fairfax County is big, and there’s a lot of variety in where people experiencing homelessness in the suburbs live — shelters, encampments, parks, parking lots, sometimes even deep in the woods. Public health workers doing outreach in the suburbs have to range over a large area, and they have to know where to look.

By Margaret Barthel | Read the full story

La dura realidad de los latinos sin techo en Washington, DC

A la hora del desayuno, almuerzo o la cena, en Shepherd’s Table nadie presta atención a la línea imaginaria que separa a DC de Silver Spring, Maryland. “Con la pandemia hemos visto a más latinos que vienen desde DC y no les negamos un plato de comida, un abrigo o un examen de los ojos”, dice Evert Vargas, director de servicios sociales de esa organización.

Puesto a enumerar los problemas de los latinos sin techo, Vargas enlista a la falta del idioma en segundo lugar. “Siempre hay alguien que les auxilia con el español, pero lo que más les afecta, les aterra y los cohíbe de buscar ayuda es su estatus migratorio. Viven en constante miedo de ser deportados”.

Por Olga Imbaquingo | Lee el artículo completo

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