Features: Homelessness and campus

They are a part of GW’s campus just as much as the vendors on H Street and merchants outside of the Metro station. Some sit outside the Tower Records at 2000 Penn, others can be found on the walkway between the Hall on Virginia Avenue and campus.

They are members of D.C.’s homeless population. And, like thousands of GW students, they live on or near GW’s Foggy Bottom campus.

Most students interviewed said they had a difficult time adjusting to seeing homeless people on a daily basis when first came to GW. Many students from rural or suburban towns had never seen a person sleeping on the street before.

Junior Josh Hiscock said living on a campus with so many homeless people can be shocking at first.

“At home, many of us are more sheltered. When we come here, it is like a culture-shock,” Hiscock said. “I was scared when I first came here because there are no homeless people at home.”

“Homelessness is an issue that is more obvious in a city,” said sophomore Megan Martin from suburban Merrick, N.Y.

Other students from metropolitan areas said they encounter homelessness more regularly at home and have grown accustomed to it.

“I am from New York City, so I am used to seeing homeless people around,” sophomore Alessia Mariani said.

Freshman Lindsay Holmwood said she was surprised by the large number of homeless people in Foggy Bottom, which is regarded as one of D.C.’s more affluent and touristy neighborhoods.

University Police Department Director Dolores Stafford said the University tries to educate students about the homeless in Foggy Bottom before they move to campus.

“We try to impress upon students, especially at (Colonial Inauguration) that there are homeless people on this campus,” Stafford said. “We try to educate students, especially those not from urban areas.”

Stafford said at the beginning of the year the department often receives calls from students complaining of homeless people outside of their dorms. She tells students it is not illegal to live on the streets.

“Homeless people are encouraged to come to this part of the city because of Miriam’s Kitchen” Stafford said about a soup kitchen just off campus at 24th and G streets. “It is important for students to realize this.”

Many students said they struggle with the issue of whether or not to help the people they see.

Holmwood said she does not often give money to people she sees on the streets.

“They seem to always be drinking and smoking when I see them,” Holmwood said, “I would not want to fund that.”

Freshman Andy Lowenthal said he does not mind giving away food but is also less likely to donate money.

Some of GW’s students said if homeless people want change, then they should be working for it.

“I would be more likely to help out a homeless person if I saw him or her singing or doing something constructive, not just sitting on a crate holding out a cup,” freshman Jai Patel said.

Stafford said although panhandling is against the law in some cities, it is not illegal in the District. According to D.C. law, people can ask others for money as long as they are not aggressive.

Stafford defined aggressive panhandling as impeding the ability to walk around the person or as harassment.

Stafford said although aggressive panhandling happens occasionally, most homeless people know the line between the two.

“They can ask students for money, and the students can choose whether or not to give it to them,” Stafford said.

While most students interviewed said they do not normally feel threatened by people living on the streets around campus, some reported problems.

“A homeless person got into Building J during dance rehearsal,” sophomore Alex Shepherd said. “He started going through a girl’s bag, but when he saw us he got scared and left.”

Last November UPD arrested Adrian Freeman, a campus regular who often stayed on GW’s campus. Freeman was on the FBI’s most wanted list for two alleged rapes, gross sexual impositions, kidnapping and aggravated burglary.

Despite this occurrence, Stafford said most people living on the streets rarely cause problems on campus.

“We have regulars,” Stafford said. “We see the same people, and most don’t bother people. I think they tend to look out for the students.”

While most students said they feel bad for homeless people, many said they wonder why they are not doing anything about their problem.

“Instead of just sitting there all day, they should be out getting a job,” senior Nikol Reyes said.

Others have gotten to know the people living on campus. Sophomore Kyle Burgess is friends with a homeless man known on campus as “Bob.”

“I love homeless people,” Burgess said. “They are the most interesting people.”

Sophomore Megan Martin said students should take action to help to try and solve the homeless problem.

“We need to take responsibility and become more aware of society’s problems,” Martin said. “We need to protect and help the people who are less fortunate than we are, and we need to change the system.”

-Elizabeth Brown contributed to this report.

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