The University can afford to abate the District’s homeless crisis

Homelessness is a visible issue both on campus and around the District, which has one of the highest homeless populations of any city in the country.

Newsrooms across D.C. worked together late last month to report on the city’s homelessness crisis, namely issues of food insecurity and a lack of homeless shelters. D.C. has set goals to address homelessness in the city, and GW can play a role too.

The University is in the middle of a rebrand. Earlier this year, officials modified the University’s mission statement to remove the phrase stating GW’s commitment to improve the D.C. area, saying GW alone does not have the ability to broadly bolster the quality of life in the city. But homelessness is an easy issue for the University to address, given the number of people without permanent housing on and around campus. There is one issue that hits close to home that GW could and should address: the homeless crisis.

The University helps those experiencing homelessness in some ways, like holding an awareness week and opening buildings and bathrooms to the public, but they can do more. Universities around the country work to help those permanent housing around their urban campuses, and news reports on the D.C. homeless crisis have shown there is still work to do in the District.

As officials announce enrollment cuts and change the University’s fixed tuition policy, students are pushing to rename campus buildings, like the Marvin Center, and the Colonials moniker. The University is in a time of transition, and it should try to improve both the student experience and the community surrounding campus. The University has the money to help people without permanent housing, and it should use it.

GW offers some support to people experiencing homelessness in the District, like donating leftover food to Miriam’s Kitchen. But doing the bare minimum is not enough when there are nearly 7,000 people without permanent housing in the city and no homeless shelters in Ward 2, where GW is located.

GW should act because it is the right thing to do – and universities around the country are doing their fair share. The University of Illinois purchases permanent housing for people without permanent housing who are frequent visitors to the emergency room. Georgetown University and the University of Central Florida offer pop-up health clinics to help those without permanent housing, and American University hosts a two-week introduction to college course for students experiencing homelessness around the District. The University can afford to do the same, especially after nixing its fixed tuition policy.

Students in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences could institute pop-up clinics, like other schools around the country do. Health care – both physical and mental – is one of the most important things that people experiencing homelessness often do not have access to. GW’s Mammovan already provides service to low-income people around D.C., and GW could use that model to arrange a pop-up health clinic service.

GW could also expand its open hours in the winter for buildings like District House and the Marvin Center so people experiencing homelessness have warm shelter for a long period of time. GW could also consider partnering with local shelters and organizations for people without permanent housing to provide things like clothing that is not selling at the GW Bookstore.

The University should strive to be a leader in solving the homeless crisis because of its location in the heart of a city with a growing homelessness problem. GW has the resources to do something, but it is failing to act. The University should not be stepping further away from the community – it should be reaching out to help. GW can follow the example of other schools by introducing pop-up health clinics, and it can be a leader by introducing new ideas, like donated clothing. GW is rebranding by shifting away from the D.C. community, but taking these steps can help GW rebrand as an institution that cares about both the campus and surrounding community.

The University has a responsibility to the community it gains from. But moving away from its commitment to helping the D.C. community means that the University is moving in the wrong direction. GW should be helping to end the homelessness crisis in the District.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of assistant copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, contributing design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.

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