Addressing the Ongoing “Quality of Life” Issues Around Eastern Market Metro Plaza

L-R Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk; Martin Smith,  BRMS; MPD 1st District Captain Mark Beach and Ulysses Fernandez.

At Monday’s night’s meeting: (L-R) Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk; Martin Smith, BRMS; MPD 1st District Captain Mark Beach and Ulysses Fernandez.

L-R Ishan Heru and Mimi Scotchmer, Community Connections; Rev. Kelli Jareaux, Safety.net

Also at the meeting. (L-R) Ishan Heru and Mimi Scotchmer, Community Connections; Rev. Kelli Jareaux, Safety.net

Some members of the audience at Monday's meeting.  Standing at rear is Bobby Coffey, representing Aquila Recovery, a new substance abuse recovery program coming to the office space above the 8th and PA Starbucks.  The private pay outpatient clinic treats clients referred by personal physicians.

Some members of the audience at Monday’s meeting. Standing at rear is Bobby Coffey, representing Aquila Recovery, a new substance abuse recovery program coming to the office space above the 8th and PA Starbucks. The private pay outpatient clinic treats clients referred by personal physicians.

Addressing the Ongoing “Quality of Life” Issues Around Eastern Market Metro Plaza

by Larry Janezich

ANC 6B’s Outreach and Constituent Services Task force, Co-chaired by Commissioners Diane Hoskins and Jennifer Samolyk, met with residents and community stakeholders on Monday night to address the issues of homelessness, vagrancy, pan handling, and drug abuse near Eastern Market Metro.

The goal of the task force was to provide a forum to discuss quality of life issues and to find ways to address concerns.  At the end of the meeting, it seemed clear that the approaches available, i.e., management and displacement, require committed on-going effort which provide limited short-term results, but do little to provide a long-term solution.

There are several reasons why those in need are attracted to the Eastern Market Metro Plaza area: the Metro Plaza transportation hub; available green space; public restrooms in Eastern Market and SE Library (and the library itself); and a well-off community, home to residents who sometimes give money to panhandlers.  In addition, there are many faith-based programs on Capitol Hill providing food and clothing to those in need.  Two neighborhood churches also provide meals:  Church of the Brethren at 337 North Carolina Avenue, SE, and Ebenezer United Methodist Church at 400 D Street.

As has been discussed before, clients of Community Connections, the nonprofit mental health agency located at 8th and Pennsylvania Avenue, are blamed by many residents for some of the neighborhood’s most distressing quality of life issues.  On Monday night, Community Connection representatives Mimi Scotchmer and Ishan Heru said that the clinic had increased its security force to three persons, who rotate responsibility for touring the neighborhood hourly to identify clients who remain in the area and to determine how to address additional needs they might have.  In addition, the agency attempts to reach out to non-clients whose behavior may be problematic and to bring them into a program.

Although residents often turn to police to solve the quality of life problems, MPD First District’s Captain Mark Beach told attendees that “We can’t arrest our way out of this situation.”  Quality of life issues have a low priority from a police force that must address crimes of violence and property first.  Often, by the time police can respond to a nuisance crime, the problem is no longer an issue or the complainant is no longer on the scene.  Beach said the 25 calls per day the First District gets to deal with unconscious persons drain resources which could be better used elsewhere.  In addition, arrests for minor crimes result in only a few hours inconvenience for those arrested.

Barracks Row Main Street (BRMS), represented by Executive Director Martin Smith, is deeply concerned on behalf of Barracks Row businesses. Smith pointed out that persons perceived as problematic are afflicted by a number of overlapping issues:  mental illness, homelessness, income instability, and substance abuse.

Judging from Monday night’s meeting, his organization’s approach is to displace the problem, though many of the restaurants on Barracks Row are generous supporters of social service programs to help the city’s poorer residents.  BRMS has worked with owners of vacant buildings to board up fronts which are being used as overnight shelters by the homeless.  Smith said that landlords are sometimes reluctant to undertake architectural solutions to reduce the use of homeless persons using their business fronts for shelter, fearing pushback from the ANC.  He suggested the ANC be more proactive in reaching out to owners in an effort to coordinate solutions.

BRMS is also considering establishing collection boxes for people to make contributions to help the needy instead of giving money to pan handlers. In response to questioning, Smith also said BRMS had looked at hiring private security in the evenings for Barracks Row but so far had not been able to find a way to make it financially feasible.

A group of stakeholders who have a large investment in the community but who were not present at last night’s meeting were the representatives of the corporations who have outlets or franchises near the intersection.  Though invited, no one from 7-11, CVS, or Citibank showed up.  All three own or lease properties which are problematic, either because of uncaring landlords or indifferent management, or both.  Former ANC commissioner Ivan Frishberg expressed his frustration at the 7th and Pennsylvania CVS’s unwillingness to address the problem posed by the group of men who gather daily on D Street behind the CVS and engage in alcohol and substance abuse.  Frishberg said, “There was human feces today on D Street by the CVS.  CVS refused to clean it up.  You guys (MPD and Community Connections) tell me all those things you’re doing. I’m surprised – I just don’t see it.”  Captain Beach pledged to do an assessment of the scene to see what MPD could do.

DC has a homeless population of about 12,000.  A 1996 analysis of data by the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients showed that over 60% of people who are chronically homelessness have experienced lifetime mental health problems.  According to the 2010 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report, over 80% have experienced lifetime alcohol and/or drug problems.

The major causes of homelessness in DC appear to be deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill under the Reagan administration, as well as redevelopment and gentrification and the resulting lack of affordable housing.

Commissioners and community problem-solvers at the meeting – as has been the case at others – gave little attention to the issue of drug dealing which takes place around Eastern Market Metro Plaza.  The matter remains of deep concern to the community, not only because of its clearly criminal nature, but also because it exacerbates the problems of those with behavioral issues who move in and through the Capitol Hill community.  The prevalence of so called “designer drug” designed to stay one step ahead of the law makes enforcement difficult.

 

16 Comments

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16 responses to “Addressing the Ongoing “Quality of Life” Issues Around Eastern Market Metro Plaza

  1. Elissa Feldman

    I’m sorry I wasn’t at the meeting. This is a big problem that seems about to become worse if I correctly read your top photo caption about a representative from “Aquila Recovery, a new substance abuse recovery program coming to the office space above the 8th and PA Starbucks.” This is very worrisome. Does anyone have more info?

  2. John

    Kudos to Community Connections for showing up and engaging with the community. It’s a shame that CVS, 7-11, and others don’t. There’s no single solution to the problem, so the involvement of all is critically important.

    On a different topic, I’m not sure how useful it is to blame the Reagan administration, as ol’ Ronnie left office nearly 30 years ago. We could just as easily blame the problem on the lack of solutions from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

    • muskellunge

      The “deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill” under Reagan was an acknowledgement that the mental hospitals were warehouses and dungeons, and essentially neglected at all levels of government and society. Consider the horrors of St. Elizabeth. To think that this should have persisted is neither reasonable nor helpful.

  3. M. Wilson

    Perhaps it’s time for the community to begin boycotting local businesses including CVS and 7-11 that help perpetuate the problem. As to our ineffective policing, I call BS on MPD, Metro Transit Police, US Park Police and DC Library Police who turn a blind eye to drinking and drug dealing and use in public space like the SE Library and Seward Square. It shows a lack of leadership and resolve when a handful of MPD officers hang around their cars along 8th Street instead of patrolling the area by foot. The idea that the community has to look to a private organization to try to address the situation is the height of absurdity.

    • John

      The District frequently relies on private entities to do its work. Just witness the work of Barracks Row Main Street and the Capitol Hill BID.

    • anon_1

      It’s also worth looking at what their landlords have done to mitigate their externalities. The 7th & Penn CVS neglects the D St facing area but the open space creates a pocket for loiterers. Citibank could easily gate their entryway after business hours to discourage urban campers from seeking shelter.

      7-11 seems to be a bigger issue than CVS or Citibank because it operates on the lowest margins and has late night business hours. There is a lot of loitering around 7-11 at night

      Of course all of these efforts should happen in parallel with social service outreach, and an understanding that public space is just that and law abiding people have every right to use public space as much anyone else.

  4. Dlg

    People need to stop giving money to panhandlers.

  5. WENDY BLAIR

    Yesterday (May 11/16) FRESH AIR WITH TERRY GROSS featured a project director, Nancy Fishman, of the Vera Foundation (with funding by the MacArthur Foundation) on how the homeless suffering from emotional illness are often jailed for minor infractions and end up incarcerated for years because they can’t cope with their actions. Law enforcement has not come up with better options. This is in municipalities across the U.S. Fishman and others are working on longer term approaches. This interview is worth a listen. Google
    Is America Engaged In A ‘Vicious Circle’ Of Jailing The Poor?

  6. Maura Dundon

    I am a little dismayed at the Orwellian-sounding “management and displacement” solution being suggested. These people are human beings and our neighbors, after all. I am an Eastern Market resident and mother of a small child, and we spend a lot of time at the library, CVS, and in the Eastern Market Plaza (aka Dirty Toy Park – for some reason my son’s very favorite park of all.) I have never felt like there is some urgent “Quality of Life” issue requiring all this attention. Drug dealing, of course – that should be addressed. But the rest seems like an exaggeration.

  7. Ellen

    Sounds like given the various groups and the various issues involved, that it going to take several approaches and participation from the multiple groups. That’s what makes it very unfortunate that no reps for CVS or the 7-11 showed up but I can’t say I am at all surprised. CC showing up shows that at least they are trying. These two business are the nexis for some of what is going on an until they do something any other solutions will only go so far.
    On a slightly related note that intersection has a lot of activity. All the business, the metro, CC, the half dozen bus stops and I can’t help but feel that maybe that is too much going on at one place. There is a lot of interplay between the various activities and the people using the space that may make dealing with these quality of life issues challenging.

  8. Jack Colhoun

    I’ve watched the mess around the Eastern Market Metro fester for years. I worry that the same circumstances are taking shape around the new 24-hour 7-11 and a new treatment center at 15th and Independence Ave., SE, which will join the nearby CAG facility. When will we learn?

  9. Steve

    Redacted. (Trolling)

  10. I want to offer some thanks to Captain Beach and Sargent Fernandez. First, the clearly identified some of the key folks at the CVS who are having serious addiction problems and causing some of the “public health” problems there. That meant that Community Connections will hopefully step and address the issues of at least one of its clients identified.

    Moreover, Commissioner Hoskins, Captain Beach and Sargent Fernandez and I spent time later that night at CVS and they committed to follow up on a clearly bad situation. CVS has now cleared up the area of human waste and it seems to be clean for now.

    I think without the time, attention and action of the MPD folks this would not have been addressed by CVS.

    The conversation with MPD was pretty frank at the meeting, but they clearly were listening and were extremely responsive. Much appreciated.

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  12. Marketman

    CVS, 7-11 and the SE Library need to do their part and ban loitering aka lying around in a drunken/drugged stupor.

    • anon_1

      You’d be surprised at how much of a struggle this presents to public libraries at a population level (MLK deals with this much more acutely than SE). It’s difficult to balance providing a public resource free to all with the necessary conditions to both serve and cope with the most challenging populations.

      The loiters in front are problematic because they are not patrons, but many of the loiterers spend time inside as well, using workstations, using resources, simply staying warm, using the rest facilities, or having some sense of a safe space. There are plenty of homeless patrons who use the facility productively but the vagrants are hard to ignore.