ANC6B Working Group Meets with City Agencies & Non-Profits on Barracks Row Issues
by Larry Janezich
The problems plaguing the 400 block of Barracks Row were inventoried and discussed at a meeting of business owners, ANC commissioners, MPD, DHHS, Community Connections, DBS, and Everyone Home (formerly Capitol Hill Ministry) last Tuesday night.
ANC6B’s Working Group on Barracks Row’s regular monthly meeting enumerated a list of concerns:
Homeless in need of services;
Panhandlers, some of whom disrupt business and retail traffic;
Community Connection clients, a recurring concern in the neighborhood;
Dealers of synthetic drugs like K-2, which may or may not be illegal at any moment, who vend to some or all of the above, exacerbating existing concerns;
Quality of life issues collect on the west side of the block stretching between the 7-11 and the Starbuck’s coffee shop. These include public intoxication, overdoses, trash accumulation, and street harassment. The west side includes four fast food outlets and four empty store fronts and a lot of thru traffic from the Metro and bus stops.
Working Group Co-Chair Tom Johnson, representing business owners on Barracks Row, is pushing a plan to hire off duty MPD to maintain a part time presence on the 400 block of 8th Street, “so that people feel safe, because now they do not feel safe or comfortable on the block”. He says 90% of Barracks Row businesses support the plan. A similar idea was floated last year by Barrack’s Row Executive Director Martin Smith who suggested an MPD substation on the block – a proposal that was nixed by MPD.
Johnson says, “The homeless are not the problem – people selling drugs is the problem…we need to try something different and see if it works. If not, try something else. Having officers on the block adds a layer of security, comfort, and safety.”
Off duty police are sometimes hired to work inside a business establishment and are paid directly by the establishment. If they’re hired to work in public space outside an establishment, the businesses reimburse MPD for the officer’s overtime. Typically, the officer performs this work in uniform.
Johnson said that next week he will mount a camera on top of one of his restaurants – Ophelia’s – at the corner of 8th and E Streets, to monitor activities on the south end of Barracks Row including outside the 7-11 across the street.
ANC6B Chair Brian Ready, who chaired the meeting in place of ANC6B Commissioner Chander Jayaraman, said he had no problem with facilitating business owners’ efforts to put additional security on the street, adding, “I’m all about balance…If businesses want to go down that line, they have to be aware of unintended consequences.” One of those consequences is the negative message that additional security is necessary – another is push back from some who think that an approach with better optics involving social services and on-the-street interaction with social workers produces better results. Ready noted it was not an either/or situation, leaving room for both.
The city agencies and non-profits in attendance were asked what contributions they could make to alleviate Barracks Row problems.
Department of Health and Human Services: Monica Merk said the department is working on ways to publicize the rights of business owners and empower them to deal with panhandling issues.
Community Connections: Representatives Ray Walker and Brian Sutton said that representatives from the non-profit routinely walk Barracks Row and other parts of the city having similar issues. Two teams interact with those they encounter and encourage them to take advantage of city services. Clients without fixed addresses who have Social Security checks sent to Community Connections are sometimes victimized by others on Barracks Row.
Department of Behavioral Health: Representatives Jacqueline Ellis and Jordan Gulley said that their Community Response Team responds to critical incidents 24/7, 7 days a week with teams of behavioral health specialists to conduct on the spot assessments and referral to those undergoing a behavioral crisis. Their hotline number is 202-673-6495.
Everyone Home DC: Karen Cunningham and Abby Sypek say their group does strategic outreach focused on Capitol Hill with the goal of keeping everyone alive and safe year-round and prioritizes helping families find permanent housing. The organization provides connector resources for those with mental health and substance abuse issues and assists people in need of food stamps or ID. Cunningham and Supek urge residents to attend the Mayor’s Budget Forums and ask for more resources for housing and behavioral health.
Those in attendance knew that already. But those residents and members of the public who need to hear that message and carry it to the budget forums almost never attend these meetings and were not in evidence Tuesday night. Charles Allen’s office sent a representative, Nichole Opkins, to the meeting, who did not offer any public comments but did engage Community Connection representatives after the meeting.