Dear PoPville – Shelters and Temporary Housing?

Photo by PoPville flickr user HLPinDC

“Dear PoPville,

On my way home from work tonight, I came across a lady sitting at the corner of New Hampshire and Randolph in Petworth. She was really bundled up, but looked confused and was sort of slouched over on the steps. Since there are not typically many homeless people in the area, and especially because she was carrying a suitcase, I was really curious about her situation. I stopped and asked her if she was alright, and she said yes. I asked if she had a place to stay tonight and she said no, she had been thrown out of her apartment building and didn’t have money to stay in a motel for the night. She was difficult to understand, but kept saying she hated shelters because they treat people so badly, but that she wasn’t sure where to stay. I asked if I could call someone for her, but she said there was no one to call. I went ahead and called 311 and they gave me a listing for an emergency shelter hotline, which I called too. They told me that every single shelter in DC was full tonight. I asked the man on the line if he had suggestions of what she should do for the night, but he told me that he “can’t make decisions for her” and hung up.

What is there to do in a situation like this? She didn’t ask me for any money, and she really didn’t seem like she knew what to do or where to go. She was an older lady, probably in her seventies, and really didn’t seem to be all there. I don’t have a place to offer for her to stay, but I gave her the twelve dollars I had in my wallet so she could maybe stay on the bus for a while or sit in a McDonalds or something. Do people have suggestions? More than anything, I wanted to share this story because it’s just so frustrating. Are there resources for temporary housing that someone can point a person like her toward?”

33 Comment

  • this is a huge problem and it’s been getting worse. poverty is increasing in dc, real estate is increasing, and funding is decreasing.

    i too would like to know what we’re going to do.

    • Poverty’s a regional issue. DC does more per capita than any other jurisdiction in the region. It’s something that the greater US society is going to need to address. More specifically it’s something that the people of DC/MD/VA need to address.

      But given the demographic change in DC, I think the days where every social ill in the region was met with “What is DC going to do about this?” are over.

  • Like the poster, I’ve tried to secure shelter for particularly vulnerable people I have encountered on the street (even a fahter with kids under 10 yrs. old) and could find nothing after calling around. Having a resource for such cases is where I would like my tax dollars to go…

  • bless you for being so caring. it’s true that there aren’t enough shelters for people, that what shelters there are can be unpleasant or have rules that keep some people from wanting to go there, and that additional shelters open up when the temperature goes below freezing.

    calling the shelter hotline is good. If she’s elderly, the District has an office of aging but I don’t know what it can do. Another option is to suggest that the person go to a place like Miriam’s Kitchen, which has case management for homeless people. The case managers aren’t magicians, but they do know about different services that are available and which places might be taking folks for waitlists.

    If she doesn’t want to go to a shelter, though, no one’s going to make her. It is incredibly sad, though.

    • Second this suggestion about Miriam’s!

    • “have rules that keep some people from wanting to go there”.

      Just curious, what are some these rules you are referring to?

      • I’m sure some have drug/alcohol policies, but one thing that jumps out at me: Some shelters lock food up so it can’t be hoarded or cause problems with rodents. That’s all well and good, but people with health issues like diabetes need access to food in case of a blood sugar low. They’d rather be on the street and able to take care of their health.

      • Overnight emergency shelters can be pretty miserable and scary, even dangerous, places to be. Especially for an elderly woman.

  • This is a tricky one. During severed weather, the shelter van has to pick them up and take them to shelter, regardless of the crowding situation. I know that a lot of shelters have stopped accepting people because they are trying to make room for hyperthermia alert situations. That being said, sadly, after a lot of pressure from well-meaning community organizations, the govt is no longer able to fill up shelters beyond capacity so when there is no room, they simply cannot let them in. The govt was putting some families up in hotel/motel rooms (a terrible solution imo), but i don’t know what ever came of that practice.

    • This is only true if it is deamed a hypothermia night by Homeland Security (feels like 32 degrees or below)

      The trouble comes when this woman refuses the service, the hotline cannot take her against her will.

      No individuals in the city are being put into hotels, families on the other hand were last season.

      Based on a report by SOMEs, over the last 2 hypothermia seasons there has never been an occassion where the individual shelters have been over capacity during hypothermia non alert nights.

      Overflow and hypothermia beds are added from November 1st through March 31st – and when there is a hypothermia alert it is city law that you have a right to shelter and NO ONE can legally be turned away.

      Hope that clarifies the process… it is super beauricratic I KNOW!

      • It is not true to say that nothing can be done. If it is determined that she is a danger to herself as a result of mental health issues, she can be involuntarily sent for observation for the night, and in some cases medicated. There are social workers and psychologists who go out to check on vulnerable individuals on really cold nights. Cops can also FD-12, so if you have to, call the cops. i have been out on these hypothermia patrols before and they do save lives. If you are seriously worried on a low temp night, call the shelter hotline and the cops. Ask for a mental health crisis worker to evaluate the person.

  • Thanks for just showing concern for your fellow man. I hope she is okay.

  • Some of these resources might be able to help:

    And possibly APS:,a,3,q,492691.asp

    You could also call the cops, but I’m not sure how much they could do. Just thinking because she’s an elder they may be able to intervene.

  • This is a constant problem for people experiencing homelessness, homeless advocates as well as advocates for the aging population.

    As fixed incomes stay fixed and rents rise our seniors and many other low wage workers are finding themselves on the streets.

    Since you live in Ward 4, write to Mary Cheh, one of the biggest opponents to affordable and transitional housing, ESPECIALLY IN Ward 4, urge the council to make funding for proven alternatives to warehouse style emergency shelter: permenant supportive housing, transitional housing, AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

    Check out these resources to learn more:

    PS Two years ago DC was a national standard for working with these vulnerable populations… not any more.

    • Mary Cheh represents Ward 3. Muriel Bowser is 4, if that makes a difference in your otherwise very informative post.

      • Thanks Soozles for the correction- I very much dislike misinformation. The same is also very true of Muriel Bowser.

    • BTW, when I lived in the Embassy Apts (Mt. P/Harvard/16th St.), they finally succeeded in converting to condos and kicked us all out if we weren’t buying. But one of my neighbors was an elderly woman who said they couldn’t kick her out and had to keep her rent at an affordable level because she was a senior. She said they (Borger Mgt) weren’t too happy about that.

      Anyone know anything about these types of protections for residents that have lived in these buildings a long time?

  • A friend of mine in the neighborhood lost his group house a while back, he was in his 70s too. He didnt like the shelters because of all the stuff going on there. Luckily, we managed to get him down to the office of aging and eventually (3 months) were able to get him placed in an apartment in maryland. Its very hard because depending on the situation people may not have IDs, contact phone numbers or other records that are needed.

  • As it is now officially hypothermia season (starting 10/31), the city is legally obligated to provide shelter for this individual. Generally, the person at the shelter hotline should have asked questions to figure out if the person had any other place to stay (with friends, relatives) and what the situation is surrounding the person’s lack of shelter. But, ultimately, if this person had nowhere else to go, they are required to receive shelter.

  • Related to this post, though somewhat tangential, is the equally sad but true fact that so many homeless, and not just in D.C., are mentally disturbed people who aren’t taking their meds. If they’d take their meds, they’d be so much more capable of contributing to society, or at a minimum, be able to care for themselves.

    I guess what I’m saying, as it relates to this post, if you want to fix the problem, don’t treat the symptom. Where possible, strongly encourage/force, the mentally-disturbed homeless into taking their meds, which then frees up space in shelters for otherwise deserving homeless (if there is such a thing).

    It’s not a bullet proof fix by any means, but it does have the effect of freeing up resources.

  • When the temperature drops, the right to shelter laws kick in and it is easier to find emergency beds. The shelter hotline is a great resource for homeless individuals, especially after-hours or if you see someone camping outside that looks unsafe (ie underdressed for weather, sick, etc). Virginia Williams Center (at 9th & Rhode Island NE) does intakes for family shelter. If you are looking to find a place that is relatively inexpensive, Hostelling International at 11th & K and the Allen Lee Hotel in Foggy Bottom are affordable and clean.

  • In addition to the shelter hotline (now reachable via 311), Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless represents individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with housing needs and also with needs like accessing benefits and health care. Their number is 202-328-5500 (and their website is generally helpful regarding how to help your fellow man:

  • Call 311.

    Or write/enter the hypothermia shelter number in the medium you carry around: 800-535-7252. The van will come by and if the person refuses service, they’ll leave a thermal blanket or two.

    Also, look up the addresses of soup kitchens and shelters in any new neighborhood you’re going into, and write/enter that into your medium. Then you can point someone who asks for money/food/shelter to that address.

    Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in a city all my life, but that’s just second-nature to do.

Comments are closed.