siness suits and boardroom meetings lay the problems that face many urban areas. Unlike most other cities, however, D.C. is home to both the nation’s most powerful individuals, as well as some of the most disempowered – the homeless.
Located in the very heart of this complex framework, GW’s campus lures students from across the country with the promise of metropolitan action. Naturally, administrators must constantly deal with balancing the school’s image as an urban dream with difficult issues like homelessness.
“According to (University Police), GW’s protocol is not to allow the homeless to ‘set up camp’ in our buildings or on our property,” Assistant Director of Media Relations Matt Nehmer wrote in an e-mail. As a result, GW has enjoyed relative success in keeping its campus free of homeless people.
“I think UPD does a pretty good job of keeping them off,” sophomore Geoffrey Seiler said. He added that he has rarely had a bad experience with a homeless person and sometimes even sits with them while having a cigarette. “You can’t own the city completely,” he said.
Students are more likely to see the homeless wandering the outskirts of campus in such areas as Washington Circle, 2000 Penn and the West End Public Library.
“Unless they create a security problem, they are permitted in the building, as are other transient patrons of 2000 Penn,” Leslie Korn, director of investment real estate for GW, wrote in an e-mail. “The homeless have not been a recurring problem at 2000 Penn in recent years.”
Most students interviewed said seeing homeless people on a daily basis required some adjustment when they first arrived in the District.
“It wasn’t a complete shock, but it was definitely weird,” said Emily Castleman, a freshman from Connecticut.
But many students said the homeless of Foggy Bottom seldom seem to disturb students or disrupt campus life.
“I don’t see a lot of them begging,” said Michael Huerta, a freshman from New Mexico. “They just seem to be minding their own business.”
Nehmer said panhandling is legal in D.C. and only “aggressive panhandling” is illegal. This includes if a panhandler causes someone to fear bodily harm, touches him or her and intentionally interferes with their passage.
“When a homeless person, just like any other visitor, is disruptive, UPD asks them to vacate the area,” Nehmer added.
Sam Rowe, a senior from Indiana, said that in general, homeless people in Foggy Bottom fall into the rhythm of the campus.
“They are just an omnipresent part of the background of city life. I hate myself for having said that, but it’s true,” he said.
Renee Baldwin, assistant director for orientation, said safety issues are covered at Colonial Inauguration and that in over two years of working with CI, homelessness has never been a serious concern to incoming students.
“Homeless people are not assaulting or bothering anyone, so it’s not the most prevalent issue facing students when they come to campus,” Baldwin said.
Nehmer agreed, saying that, “Overall, the University is sensitive to the plight of homeless people.”
Miriam’s Kitchen, located on 24th and G streets, is a non-profit organization that provides a variety of services to the homeless in Foggy Bottom, including weekday breakfast service.
When the group first wanted to move into its current location in 1994, there was a huge amount of tension with Foggy Bottom residents, said Scott Schenkelberg, director of volunteers for Miriam’s Kitchen.
“Now, that’s not really the case. I might get two or three calls a year from neighbors,” Schenkelberg said, adding that the University has been very cooperative with Miriam’s Kitchen and continue to have good relations with UPD.
“Sometimes people loiter and then they move on,” Schenkelberg said, adding that many homeless people spend a lot of time in the library because it is warm and people do not bother them. “We have a very well-read client base,” he said.
Coming to D.C. from all corners of the nation, GW students arrive on campus with vastly different perceptions of homelessness, some with more experience than others.
Matt Lockheed, a senior from Denver, said he was gullible in his first year at GW and that it took him time to adjust to seeing homeless people in D.C.
“(Homeless people) are in downtown Denver,” Lockheed said, “but not when you step outside your house like in D.C.”
In his first year at GW, Lockheed said a homeless man approached him asking for money. “I said I only had large bills,” Lockheed said. “He pulled out a wad of money, more than I had, and broke my twenty.”
Some students, such as junior Bradley Glanzrock from Florida, said they have felt uncomfortable at times with the D.C. homeless situation.
“I mean, if you’re walking home alone at night and from the darkness you hear a random voice, it’s a bit frightening,” Glanzrock said.
Other students expressed some fondness for homeless people they see frequently. Amy Sleeper, a freshman from California, said she recently had not seen a particular homeless woman on the bridge near the Hall on Virginia Avenue.
“She went away,” chimed in freshman Emily Castleman. “I miss her.”