Homelessness: A Growing Neighborhood Concern

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A woman experiencing homelessness at Wisconsin Avenue and K Street NW. Georgetowner photo.

At its first fall meeting, on Aug. 31, the Georgetown-Burleith advisory neighborhood commission covered a broad range of concerns in Georgetown in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, from the widening of sidewalks to accommodate outdoor shopping and dining to reminding residents of their civic duty to submit a U.S. census questionnaire by the end of September. 

But concerns about the homeless population in and around Georgetown came up during discussion of many of the agenda items.

The stresses of coping with shutdowns, mobility restrictions and access to basic needs — such as a bed, a roof, food, a place to put one’s possessions and even somewhere to shower and change into clean clothes — has been exacerbated by the pandemic, noted Commissioner Gwen Lohse. It has seemingly resulted in more visible confrontations with homeless people, who are coping with their stress in public, often with discomfiting behavior.

“What do we do when we must deal with incidents involving such individuals?” Lohse asked Metropolitan Police Cmdr. Duncan Bedlion.

“The Department of Behavioral Health and the police are the two agencies with trained personnel to deal with such individuals, depending on the situation,” Bedlion responded. “If they are having a mental health episode such as shouting or urinating in a public place or other inappropriate behavior, then call the DBH. But if their actions are dangerous to themselves or to others, call the police immediately. Many of these individuals are known to us. We have deep information and experience with many of them and can help them.”  

“The mayor has just instituted a mental health/stress hotline, as well, for everyone having problems coping,” announced Anna Noakes, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s liaison to Georgetown. The hotline — 888-793-4357 — was also announced at the mayor’s press conference, which dealt largely with increasing incidents of violence throughout the District, including non-peaceful events triggered by the almost daily protest marches.

“We hope the police will continue to escort protestors,” said Georgetown Business Improvement District CEO Joe Sternlieb. 

Positive developments regarding the issue of homelessness include the reopening of Georgetown Ministry Center at 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW. “Modified window services” are being offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Among them are coffee and snacks to go, mail pickup and the issuance of toiletries, masks and other essential items. Homeless individuals can pick up bag lunches, contributed by Veritas City Church, Monday through Friday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Georgetown Ministry Center has operated a drop-in center, street outreach and a winter shelter for over 40 years with the support of many local churches and volunteers. GMC “offers a safe haven from the streets to our most withdrawn and vulnerable homeless neighbors. It is an essential part of the net of services cast to the city’s homeless population.”  

“There are people there seven days a week to help,” ANC Chairman Rick Murphy said. “But more volunteers are needed for meal service to the homeless at various churches every week.” 

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