CM Charles Allen on Homeless Encampments… and Helicopters
by Larry Janezich
Last week at ANC6C’s March meeting, chaired by Commissioner Karen Wirt, CM Charles Allen briefed on the state of Ward 6 and other issues of interest to the Commission. One of those issues was the homeless encampments near Union Station. Allen talked about encampments, especially the one in the triangular park at 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue, NE, across from the Heritage Foundation, but there are also significant encampments beneath the railroad overpasses between 1st and 2nd Streets NE in NOMA. About the Mass Ave encampment, Allen noted the pocket park belongs to the National Park Service, whose actions regarding the homeless are apparently governed by the Center for Disease Control.
- Those guidelines advise that: “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.
- Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
See the agency’s Guidance on Unsheltered Homelessness and COVID for Homeless Service Providers and Local Officials here: http://bit.ly/30AHwMe
Allen said that the city is struggling to deal with inhabitants of encampments in a way that preserves their dignity; “We can’t force people off the street into a shelter”. There are enough shelter beds, but shelter beds alone won’t solve the problem. Many of the homeless are fearful of congregate housing during the pandemic, many have everything they own in plastic bags and there are no storage facilities in shelters, some have pets which shelters will not accommodate, shelters don’t accommodate couples or adult children, and some homeless have behavioral or mental health problems.
Allen noted that the policy leaves the encampments in the hands of DC’s Department of Human Services which continues to reach out to the homeless through its Homeless Services Program. He said, “There are good people on the Mayor’s team who are trying to solve the problem”.
Another issue came up during the question and answer period and concerned the seemingly ever- increasing number of low flying helicopters over Capitol Hill neighborhoods.
Allen said a number of agencies are responsible and named the U.S. Park Police, medical aircraft, and MPD. The challenge, he said, is that the “federal agencies just don’t care about us”. Allen related a personal incident of some 6 to 8 weeks ago when he was walking his dog near Stanton Park early one Sunday morning and saw military helicopters “30 feet off the ground” coming from the direction of RFK Stadium to the Capitol, without notice. He said that was “incredibly disrespectful to the Capitol Hill neighborhood” and he was visibly annoyed at the idea that someone in the Pentagon thought that a training mission to evacuate the US Capitol at 6:15am was a good idea.
Commissioner Joel Kelty – who is a pilot – noted that many of the helicopters are UH-1 single engine military aircraft which pose a threat to the community in case of engine failure and opined if these are operating during training missions, they need to be at a higher altitude.
Allen held out hope that “with a change of tone and administration we’ll be able to make some progress” in lessening the intrusion of the noise on the community.