Pinto aims to address COVID-19 business recovery, homelessness during next four years

Media Credit: File Photo by Sarah Urtz | Senior Staff Photographer

Pinto said homelessness in Foggy Bottom is a major issue she aims to confront during her first full term.

Brooke Pinto entered the D.C. Council during an unprecedented moment in local D.C. politics.

Pinto completed the term of former Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans – the longest-serving lawmaker in D.C. history – who resigned amid an ethics scandal five months prior. As she stepped into office, the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests were sweeping through D.C.

Now, as she prepares for a full term in office as Ward 2’s first-ever female representative, Pinto said she plans to prioritize addressing COVID-19 business recovery and Foggy Bottom’s homelessness crisis. Pinto said she hopes to bankroll struggling workers and small businesses and build trust with homeless communities while working to supply them with permanent housing.

“It has been a very busy first six months, a very important time for our city both with the devastating effects of COVID-19 and working to help folks and families and businesses recover but also with the demand and calls for criminal justice, racial justice throughout our city, and we take those responsibilities very seriously,” she said.

Pinto’s first six months in office have been highlighted by key legislation for Ward 2 and the District at large. She’s voted to establish the D.C. Police Reform Commission and distribute additional financial COVID-19 aid for businesses and laid-off workers while engaging with constituents like local leaders, people experiencing homelessness and unemployed workers in the ward, which includes Foggy Bottom.

Pinto identified the COVID-19 pandemic as the “biggest problem” currently facing local neighborhoods like Foggy Bottom, as small businesses struggle to identify sources of revenue under tight restrictions. She said the Council recently passed a reinstatement bill that requires businesses to rehire laid-off employees amid the pandemic once their positions reopen.

As the pandemic continues to cripple small businesses, Pinto said she’s worked through legislation to extend unemployment benefits, provide additional grants for small businesses and approve the use of “streateries” – outdoor seating areas that restaurants create to maintain service and accommodate health restrictions. She said restaurants can continue using licenses for streateries through December because of legislation she introduced and helped put into effect last October.

“We think the biggest problem right now is around COVID and the effect that it has had on our workers who are trying to get back to work,” she said.

Pinto added that more students returning to the Foggy Bottom Campus could help alleviate the financial strain on small businesses in the area. GW officials expect nearly 4,000 students – about one-third of the student population – to return to Foggy Bottom in the spring semester.

“We are looking forward to welcoming students back,” she said. “It’s really important to our city to have the students be a part of it for their college experiences, for support for our local businesses. It’s really an important aspect of Ward 2, and we’re thrilled to see that.”

But more students in the area might illustrate a health risk of its own – a string of large student gatherings last fall sparked fears that other students and local residents could be infected with the novel virus. Pinto said D.C. officials must enforce COVID-19 restrictions, like the city’s mask mandate and gathering limitations, to slow the contagion’s spread.

She said the Council has worked with the Metropolitan Police Department, the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to ensure “the public health crisis is taken seriously.” Pinto said she’s also encouraged Mayor Muriel Bowser to enforce gathering limitations, which permit a private group of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Pinto said homelessness is another “huge issue” she’s committed to confronting in Foggy Bottom, where students have rallied for years to protect unhoused residents at an encampment on E Street. Pinto said she voted for a technology tax bill provision last summer that allotted $5 million for permanent housing vouchers and said 200 permits were distributed in D.C. last month.

“The best way to assist our neighbors experiencing homelessness is to give them permanent, supportive housing and adequate wraparound services so that folks aren’t back on the street in one year’s time,” she said.

Pinto said she’s also collaborated with nonprofits, the District’s Department of Human Services and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services to distribute personal protective equipment to homeless communities for COVID-19. Bowser is developing plans to cut funding for nonprofits who supply homeless communities with social services, DCist reported last month.

Local leaders said they have established a positive rapport with Pinto, who has been receptive to neighborhood complaints as simple as moving a portable toilet from a local playground during her tenure in office so far. Members of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, whom Pinto has invited to personal meetings to discuss local issues, said they hope the Council member prioritizes the pandemic’s impact on jobs and public health during the next four years.

Commissioner Jeri Epstein said she’s “very impressed” by Pinto’s first six months in office, and she’s confident Pinto will continue to be an effective representative of the Ward 2 community. Epstein said Pinto and her office have responded to her concerns, involving issues like sidewalk repairs and homeless encampments, where Pinto has sent nonprofit workers to connect residents with health and housing resources.

“She has made a huge effort to understand the position and get people in her outreach group who are very productive and very good communicators, so that is why I think they’re going to be good as a group,” she said.

Commissioner Trupti Patel said she called Pinto about an illegal drug operation running out of her district last summer, to which Pinto was “very responsive.” She said her collaboration with Pinto helped resolve the issue, which resulted in an arrest and conviction.

Patel said she urges Pinto to expand COVID-19 relief aid for local hospitality workers – including hotel and restaurant employees – whom she identifies as the group the pandemic has hit the hardest financially in Ward 2. Patel said those who might be struggling without jobs or much income may not have the ability to contact city officials on a regular basis, but they should still be heard from D.C. lawmakers like Pinto.

“I hope she realizes that Ward 2 is comprised of nearly 60,000 residents, and all 60,000 may not have the ability to vote for her,” she said. “But they have voices, and they have opinions. And they matter too.”

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