Deputy mayor introduces homeless housing initiative at ANC meeting

Media Credit: Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor

Commissioners heard from officials about the recent Townhouse Row evacuations prompted by reports of mold in the buildings.

Updated: Sept. 17, 2021 at 12:05 p.m.

A local governing body questioned District officials about a new homeless encampment initiative seeking to connect residents with housing opportunities during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Members of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission pressed District officials for more information about the program, which they estimate could house 25 to 50 percent of residents living in three of the District’s largest encampments, including the E Street encampment near campus. Commissioners also voted to distribute humanitarian grants to two local nonprofits and received an update from a University official about last week’s evacuation of Townhouse Row.

Here are some of the meeting’s highlights:

D.C. unveils encampment initiative
Wayne Turnage, the deputy mayor for health and human services, Jamal Weldon, the city’s encampment program manager, said the new program would pilot at three encampments across the District – those located at E Street, the NoMa underpasses and New Jersey and O Street Park. They said the program would work to provide housing for encampment residents through heightened outreach work and support care for behavioral health and substance use.

Officials will also minimize trash and biohazards at the encampments to maintain their “overall cleanliness,” according to informational sheet about the pilot. The sheet states that the initiative should indicate whether an encampment will lose some of its health and safety risks or undergo a rise in “service connection and stable housing.”

“This particular program has identified three of the largest encampment sites throughout D.C., as well as three sites that have unfortunately had the most vulnerable consumers and highest level of health and safety risk factors,” Weldon said.

They said the unhoused residents at the E Street encampment are not currently at risk of eviction because the District shares their property with the National Park Service, adding that discussions between the city and NPS are ongoing so officials can determine a path forward, which could entail eventual evictions. Turnage said encampment residents who accept help will receive “intensive” case management and assistance for the housing process with tasks like obtaining IDs and vital documents.

“This is not something that bumps anyone ahead on a list or knocks anyone else off of a list or whatever the case,” Turnage said. “This allows us to address this situation for our unhoused encamped residents directly.”

Students have rallied to defend residents of the E Street encampment and avert evictions for years.

GW official explains evacuation
Kevin Days, GW’s director of community relations, updated commissioners about the Townhouse Row evacuation and said the University has not identified additional spaces on campus that need “extensive remediation.” Days said the University still expects the relocation of students to only last two to three weeks, but he declined to comment further about the buildings’ remediation, only offering to provide information to commissioners offline.

“There is a detailed scope of work that describes what that remediation is,” he said. “The end result is we want students to be able to return to their townhouses and feel safe and not have their health impacted in a negative way.”

More than 70 students and faculty said mold growth and water leaks have caused cold- and flu-like symptoms since the start of the fall semester. Days said the University is in contact with the appropriate D.C. agencies, like the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, about the cleaning process at Townhouse Row.

Commissioners distribute humanitarian grants
The ANC unanimously approved sending funds to Serve Your City and Ward 2 Mutual Aid, two local nonprofit organizations that will each receive a portion of the $12,000 that the ANC allocated for grants earlier this year. Commissioners Yannik Omictin and Trupti Patel, who created the humanitarian grants special committee in March to assist local residents who were struggling financially because of the pandemic, said the committee selected those two charities because they had no overhead costs, and all money would go directly into the community.

The ANC granted $8,400 to Serve Your City, which provides opportunities to at-risk students in D.C., and $3,600 to Ward 2 Mutual Aid, which provides meals and assistance to families and unhoused individuals. Patel said the two organizations had thoughtful and thorough plans for their grant packages, giving them the edge over several other applicants for the grants.

“They were very thoughtful in how they were going to use the money and were very diligent in making sure how they would report the feedback to the humanitarian grants committee,” Patel said. “So it was an absolute pleasure to donate this money.”

University announces bicentennial block party
Days also announced that GW will host a block party to celebrate its bicentennial early next month. The event will take place on H Street between 21st and 22nd streets Saturday, Oct. 2, and officials will shut down H Street for about six hours that night.

Days did not say which activities or attractions will be available at the block party, but he invited commissioners and neighbors to attend. Online registration is required, he added.

“I hope you will register and come and help celebrate 200 years of GW being in the Washington area and hope that we can celebrate with our neighbors,” he said.

This post was updated to clarify the following:
This post was updated to clarify the location of GW’s bicentennial block party. Days said the event would take place on F Street at the ANC meeting, but he later notified The Hatchet that the University would host the event on H Street.

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