Updated: Nov. 17, 2020 at 1:59 p.m.
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, four newly elected neighborhood leaders said they hope to combat homelessness and lead Foggy Bottom to a safe recovery from the pandemic.
Joel Causey, Yannik Omictin, Donna Barbisch and Adam Friend were elected to their first terms on the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission earlier this month. The trio said they will prioritize several issues that have recently weathered the Foggy Bottom community, including the pandemic, homelessness, traffic safety concerns and a lack of funding for small businesses.
Only three of the ANC’s eight commissioners ran for reelection this year, clearing five seats for new candidates and paving the way for a new direction for the ANC in the years ahead. The district that’s currently represented by senior James Harnett, which solely covers GW residence halls and University President Thomas LeBlanc’s residence, still remains vacant without any declared candidate.
Here’s what you should know about each newly elected commissioner:
Causey, a real estate manager who has represented the District in planning the construction of Nationals Park and the Washington Convention Center, clinched victory for the ANC’s open 2A02 seat, which represents part of the West End between 23rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Causey will succeed Commissioner Nicole Goldin.
Causey said his district’s biggest challenges include a loss of commerce due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a rise in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness, who need more mental health support, he said.
“The homeless population has gone up exponentially in our ANC here,” Causey said. “That is something that we need to jump ahead of, and we need to give these people help.”
Causey said his main goal as a commissioner is to serve his constituents, including students who live in off-campus apartments in his district.
“There are a lot of GW students that come here, fall in love with D.C., move a block or two and get an apartment or condo or land a really nice job at a nonprofit or some government agency,” Causey said. “There are people that are coming here, and a lot of them are staying. I want more input from GW, so we can see what GW needs.”
Omictin, a senior and the Student Association’s vice president for government relations, will fill Commissioner and GW alumnus Patrick Kennedy’s current seat, which borders the White House and includes Thurston and Mitchell halls.
Through his own attendance at ANC meetings, Omictin said he identified issues that needed more work in the community and created “ambitious goals” for the commission’s future, through which he hopes to craft a plan to curb homelessness in his district.
“There is a lot more that could be done to materially improve the lives of folks experiencing homelessness, protesters who might be passing through Foggy Bottom and students in Foggy Bottom,” he said.
Omictin said he is interested in supporting permanent supportive housing and expanded community input on encampment evictions to combat homelessness in his district. He said he also intends to hold police accountable for use of force to protect protesters and create a bicycle lane on 17th Street.
“It’s about why they’re here and treating them with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” Omictin said. “It’s just they don’t have the resources to make sure that they can stay safe and clean. The shelter system in this city is really lackluster, and that’s why they are out here.”
Barbisch, a retired U.S. Army general who served for 38 years with experience in national security consultation and pandemic planning, will succeed former Commissioner William Kennedy Smith, who resigned earlier this year and represented the area around the Watergate complex.
Barbisch said she is focused on improving safety, security, traffic and streetscapes – the physical and visual environment of a roadway – in her district. She said she plans to address traffic congestion issues on Virginia Avenue and call for the opening of more restaurants near the Watergate Hotel to help support local community members.
She said she wants to host open meetings with her constituents on Zoom in hopes of improving communication with them and providing spaces where “people can voice their concerns.”
“People need to know they are heard,” Barbisch said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Barbisch said her top priority is to create a “strategic plan” through which the ANC will identify key issues that need to be resolved – like traffic hazards and homelessness – and then create a course of action for the next “five, eight or 10 years.”
“You have to start from today,” Barbisch said. “You cannot change yesterday, but you can always change today, and you can plan for tomorrow.”
Friend, a U.S. State Department employee who works in the Office of the Special Envoy for the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, said he decided to launch a write-in campaign after hearing about the ANC’s vacant seat left by former Commissioner Detrick Campbell, who resigned this past summer. Friend said his plan to help local businesses prepare to adapt to social distancing guidelines during the winter will be “the biggest challenge” as he represents the north and east ends of campus.
He said he hopes to extend aid to local restaurants so they can use public space outdoors with provisions like tents to stay open with sufficient safety measures.
“The biggest challenge we’re facing right now is how to manage through the coronavirus, especially given that places are trying to reopen and adapt to circumstances with it getting colder and fixing up restaurants and shops,” Friend said. “I hope to be able to help them manage through it, help places reopen and help places stay open.”
Friend said he wants to see businesses operate more frequently with more hours in the future – an area he said his district lacked in before the pandemic. He also plans to create more “recycling opportunities” for the different groups of people who cross into his district.
“My overall goal is to keep the neighborhood safe, and my vision is to provide more for people who live here,” Friend said.
This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Omictin hoped to support the building of a temporary shelter in his district. He is hoping to create more permanent supportive housing. We regret this error.
This article appeared in the November 16, 2020 issue of the Hatchet.