This article is part of our 2021 contribution to the DC Homeless Crisis Reporting Project in collaboration with other local newsrooms. The collective works will be published throughout the day at DCHomelessCrisis.press.
After spending the day working with elementary and middle school students as an art teacher at a local public school, Kyle Scadlock spends most Fridays walking around Foggy Bottom, handing out supplies to individuals experiencing homelessness.
Scadlock spent nearly four hours last Friday evening handing out water bottles, snacks and toiletries to some of Foggy Bottom’s unhoused residents. He said helping unhoused neighbors has been a focus of his since moving to D.C. last July, feeling a need to support neighbors who he thinks have been left behind.
“It’s about supporting our community and especially people that don’t have basic human rights, like shelter, water, food as a result of failed government and failed policy,” Scadlock said.
Scadlock is one of more than a dozen volunteers who participate in weekly outreach to homeless residents in Foggy Bottom on behalf of Ward 2 Mutual Aid, an organization that works to support community members in vulnerable situations, like homelessness or unemployment. Every Thursday, volunteers fill supply packs before heading out Friday to deliver them to homeless people throughout Foggy Bottom, offering much-needed support to people who they say have been left behind by failed government housing policy.
The volunteers gather near the E Street homeless encampment every Friday at 5 p.m., serving the dozens of residents living there before walking to two encampments near the Watergate Hotel and Washington Circle, according to the group’s Instagram page. They tow wagons and coolers, filled to the brim with supplies, to every homeless resident they can find – they’re friends with most already.
A D.C. government pilot program is set to close the E Street encampment after officials provide housing to the residents there. A total of seven mutual aid organizations serve the District – one for each ward except wards 7 and 8, which share a joint mutual aid group that serves both.
Scadlock said he first got involved with the weekly outreach program after he moved to D.C., learning about Ward 2 Mutual Aid via Google while looking for ways to become involved in his new community. He said he felt the need to participate after learning about D.C.’s mutual aid network.
“So I found out I was in Ward 2 and found out through the Internet and got involved that way,” he said.
Ward 2 Mutual Aid relies on contributions from individuals or organizations to pay for the supplies they distribute. The group focuses on transparency and publicly lists their transaction history and current available funds, which sits at more than $21,000, according to its website.
Members of the organization work throughout the week to prepare for Friday outreach, packing boxes for distribution starting Thursday.
The group’s website lists the programs they offer in ward 2, which include the weekly encampment outreach, grocery deliveries to about 150 families, back-to-school supply drives and hot meal donations.
Queenie Featherstone, a volunteer experiencing homelessness, said she attends the outreach event nearly every week, despite facing tough living conditions. She said she lives out of her car but feels obligated to support the volunteers and other unhoused residents.
“My faith is what keeps me strong because I know if I help others, good will come to me,” she said. “I believe that.”
Featherstone, who is 62, said she spends some of her time writing poems as a vendor for Street Sense Media, a local newspaper that focuses on raising awareness for homelessness in the District. She said she’s been unable to find housing after the rent dramatically increased at her previous home, forcing her out.
“I lost my hearing, I have no children, I’m not on drugs, I’m not an alcoholic,” she said. “But yet no one can help me for housing.”
Bryce Maples, a senior studying history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said he started volunteering almost weekly after learning about the group on social media. He said he knows he can’t be as helpful as a government, but he wants at least to try to help people’s lives become “marginally” easier.
Maples said the general student body should be more aware of the conditions that homeless people face in Foggy Bottom. He said students should realize that society’s negative view of homelessness stacks the odds against people who are trying to find housing, which traps them in a system of homelessness.
“A lot of students at GW really believe in the propaganda that’s been shoved down their throat, that people are unhoused because they’re lazy,” he said. “When really, people are unhoused because they’re set up to fail in the system.”
Maples said GW should end its policy that allows GW Police Department officers to bar people who sleep on campus benches from returning to GW property, especially because of GW’s history of gentrification in D.C.
“A lot of students forget how much impact the University has on the community and how much of that impact is negative,” he said.