Homeless America

On my way down the street in one of Washington DC’s hippest neighborhoods, I look at all the houses and the people, in search of what I can say about this place at this point in history.  I ride the metro here and there, out to the lovely suburbs, and I wonder if this region represents the United States in a small scale.  Some friends and I walk into a local liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, and we have a brief exchange with various homeless people out front, and step over the passed out man on the floor of the shop before paying the cashier through a bullet proof glass window.  Yet we walk down the street and see beautiful homes, people walk their dogs and say hi to you sometimes.  Behind the cast-iron bars on the windows and doors, there are families, college kids, artists, and people of all walks of life.

Does DC teach us something about what the United States is all about? Or is it an anomaly of a city that doesn’t even have a state?

One thing deserving of more attention, in this city and beyond, is the amount of people living on the streets.  The Los Angeles Homeless Coalition says that 3.5 million Americans will be homeless in a given year.  3.5 million.  On the streets. In a shelter only in the rarest of cases.  They also say 1 in every 5 suffer from a severe mental illness, no where is that more apparent then in our nations capital. Much like the shelters that are nonexistent or inadequate, so too are the public mental health institutions, places where people can go to get treatment and off the streets.  People in DC tell me about them. They have names for them “stabby dancer” for the guy who would dance around and occasionally stab people with a pen knife.  “Blanket guy” for the man wrapped in a blanket who you see on your way down the street each morning.  They notice them, yet in many ways, these people are not at all noticed.  Ignored and deemed invisible by their community and by their government… both of which seem to hope they’ll simply disappear.

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4 thoughts on “Homeless America

  • December 17, 2007 at 1:22 am
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    We had to fight like he$$ just to keep the few we have open. If you would like to read about it check out http://untilwerehome.org/default.aspx

    The big problem is that politicians like to give away (at reduced prices) public property to developers instead of using it for public uses. The developers like to use it to build more high priced condos, etc. or stadiums.

    • December 17, 2007 at 7:35 am
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      ABM – I don’t have an email from you but Im looking at this link and I want to do a podcast on this topic. MAybe speak to someone from the org … if you’d like to do it.. please email bicyclemark at mail dot com. Or Ill just contact them off that site. This is definitely something I want to hear more about.

  • December 20, 2007 at 7:28 pm
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    The previous commenter noted the “giving away” of public land to developers instead of using it for “public uses.” DC has experiencing budget surpluses for the past few years. Do a quick google search and you’ll find stories of the DC coffers 40 or 50 million over budget every quarter. That extra money then goes to police, fire, emt, schools, health services etc and there are plenty of stories on that too.

    Q: But where did that money come from?
    A: From property taxes

    People LOVE government $$$ for city services but they can’t stand it when government has to make $$$ for those services. Welcome to DC politics!

    It’s easy for someone to see new expensive condos going up and then see a homeless person nearby and draw a convenient conclusion…but public policy/finance like truth isn’t always so convenient.

    I wish the conversation about the future of DC would improve and go beyond the Bush W comic book view of us vs. them – but sadly it rarely does

    Check out this story about public housing that was torn down and public/private money was used to build those “condos” and townhouses everyone laments:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/17/AR2007121702071.html

  • December 27, 2007 at 6:16 pm
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    If the city has such big surpluses then 300 people should not have to lose their home for cut rate prices to be given to a private firm. I am not for corporate welfare. Buy private property and make all the money on it you want. Citizens paid for the property and should have a say in how it is used.

    That story in the Post above is a good one but it is about 600 people while thousands wait to get into affordable housing.

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