Dear PoPville – Something’s Different…


Dear PoPville,

Everyday on my walk to the Columbia Heights metro, I cross 16th street on Park road, but yesterday I noticed that there are no longer men lingering outside the Hermano Pedro Day Shelter / Shrine of Sacred Heart Church.

Having had several scary experiences with men blocking my way on the sidewalk, shouting profanities, spitting in my face, and then banging on the windows of cars stopped at the stoplight on Park, I can’t say that I’m not pleased. Just curious about whether this is part of some larger change in the neighborhood.

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50 Comment

  • Just curious (seriously and not judging) … why do you still live there if this crap happens so much. What’s the criteria for “I’ve had enough; looking for a new place?”

    • I’ve lived in the area since about 2006 and I’ve never seen anything like that happen. I mean defniitely some sketchy looking dudes but it sounds like the OP was also exagerating things.

      • You don’t sound like the target audience with a name like “Alan.” It happens and it happens a lot. I lived in MtP for six years and got cat called all the time. The part about getting spit on surprises me, but then when I think about the guys in that park I’ve had run in with, it actually doesn’t.

        • Yeah I believe the cat calls happen, I’m not oblivious. The rest is what I think was the exageration. The neighborhood is noticeably more “sanitized” than it was a while ago but its just funny that people seem to move here and then are so thin-skinned about relatively minor things.

          • I hear where you’re coming from, and I know this blog has had its share of hand-wringing complaints that end up amounting to little more than “Gasp! Black (or Latino) people out and about! Going about their daily business!” But I don’t think this is one of those complaints. Having lived in major cities for over 20 years, at this point, I’ve learned to mostly tune out the catcalls (I still would rather do without them, but it is what it is). Granted, I suppose it’s better than being beat up and mugged, but I’d hardly call being spit on a “minor” thing. I could ignore someone muttering a catcall at me from a building stoop or whatnot–but it’s a little harder to ignore someone who’s physically blocking you from passing by, shouting profanities in your face, and trying to spit on you. And it’s easy to call other people thin-skinned when you’re not the one getting harrassed on a regular basis.

          • this is not an exaggeration. i have been street harassed by many of these men and one even yelled that he was going to “put me on ‘his’ and spin me around,” aka rape me. and alan, implying that women need thicker skin and not be in such a fuss about sexual harassment….wow, way to participate in rape culture, buddy.

      • When I first read the post, my initial thought was “But…that’s never happened to me when I’ve walked by there!” Then I realized, all that means is, none of that has ever happened to ME…my experience isn’t everyone’s experience. If the OP had vaguely cited the mere presence of men hanging out there as “scary,” I might wonder if s/he were exaggerating. However, these are some pretty specific and objective examples of confrontational, threatening behavior. (Though this group has never said anything to me, I’m certainly used to catcalling in general, as is every woman. But spitting and getting up in someone’s face is a whole other level.)

    • I’m in the neighborhood too, and I’ve never had anything like that happen there.

    • What does “living there” supposed to mean in your question, Anonymous?

      Personally, I live several blocks away from 16th and Park. I have to walk by that intersection to access the metro station to get to my job that pays me money that allows me to eat food and have a roof above my head.

      And the one dude that was always wearing a tan army jacket was always high/drunk, and always followed me shouting swear words. It was very threatening and scary.

    • I have never had a problem with them. Carry on…

  • I’ve seen people there as recently as Tuesday or yesterday. Maybe just a fluke? Possibly some other facility is picking up the slack or the warm weather has changed peoples patterns.

  • According to this article, Hermano Pedro closed on March 31:

  • binpetworth

    Walked by there this morning and there were about 10 men lingering outside the church. I’ve never had a negative experience with them (maybe the early morning crowd is tamer?)

  • Man, some of those guys are the worst. I feel for the ones that are down on their luck and trying to better themselves, but so many of them are drunk all the time, attempt to sexually harass my wife and I’m sure a lot of other women that walk around there, relieve themselves in public (1 and 2), and try to intimidate anyone passing by.

    They are going to be there regardless of whether the shelter is open or not, church property is more or less “public space” where they can congregate without anyone saying anything to them. This often creates a risk to people that live close to churches, but many of the churches more or less don’t care.

    • Scrillin

      …and then the church congregations wonder why non-churchgoers aren’t always happy to live near churches…

  • I’ve had some issues there before. I was walking past in the early evening, smoking the ONE cigarette I had on me, dude stopped me and demanded a smoke (clearly drunk, i might add). He blocked my path when i explained that it was my last one, yet he kept asking, and on his fifth slurred, drunken demand of a cigarette, I had to resort to the old “F*** OFF. I DON’T HAVE ANYMORE, SO GET THE F— OUT OF MY WAY”. I’d be not unhappy if i never had to deal with that again.

  • andy

    I think this shelter that was in Sagrado Corazon was one of the only nearly full time (23 hours a day or something like that) shelters available in DC. A lot of people really needed it, unfortunately not all of them were sympathetic folks.

  • I guess that’s the thanks we get for letting all those Salvadorans come here during their civil war and stay here for years and years afterward. Probably 98% of them are good hardworking folks that deserve to stay here and contribute to society, I just wish they would crack down on some of the others, its not like we don’t already have really bad indigenous crime problems in DC.

  • I’ve never had any unusual encounters there, but obviously that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

    Kudos to Unity Health Center, by the way, for their new cameras and “No Loitering” signs on 14th Street. I’ve seen less and less of the large crowds of men hanging around, spitting, urinating and harassing women.

  • tonyr

    I don’t live around here, but if this is a problem, why not just detour around Park and take Irving to the Metro?

    • That’s fine if you’re walking, but if you’re in a car, Park Road is your only option. Last month while I was stopped at the red light there, a guy (think it was Army Jacket dude) shambled up to my car, stuck his head in my window, exhaling cigarette smoke and god knows what else, and demanded that I help him. I told him to fuck off and closed the window. At 9 months pregnant, I was highly defensive of my personal space and I don’t have empathy for drunks who accost people. God help him if he tries that now when I have a newborn in the car.

      • tonyr

        The first sentence wet along the lines of – “Everyday on my walk to the Columbia Heights metro”

        • No need to get defensive — the other comments indicate this problem is not the experience of just the OP.

  • Have walked past a million times w/o incident. Someone really needs to move to Potomac or some other never-never land.

    • Good for you, judging by your name you’re probably not female, which is mostly what these guys harass.

    • Because nothing has happened to you means….nothing happened to you. You have no idea how many people have been harassed, etc by the men that hang out near this church.

      And my guess is that women are subject to a lot more sexual harassment than someone named Rich.

    • your troll game needs uppin’, bro.

  • I used to live at the Park Monroe on kitty-corner (more or less) to the church and the little triangle park where these men hang out. None of them ever did anything to me, but I’m a man, I wasn’t exactly their ideal target. However, I did once observe a knife fight going on in that park and promptly called the police. My personal favorite was the [usually drunk/high] guy who would always ask me for change and, if I gave him some, would reward me by telling me the exact same joke every single time: “What do you call a dog with no arms and no legs? You can him anything, but he ain’t ever gonna come!”

  • I used to live directly across the street. I had a few run ins. I once had to alert the police that there was a drunk guy passed out ON 16th St and helped some others bring a very drunk man who could not communicate to the shelter when it was about 20 degrees out.

    I hate to see a vital resource that people obviously need go away, but that park was not a safe or clean area.

    I tried to change my headlights while parked next to it and I was descended upon by a bunch of men who wanted to “help” me, then demanded money. I closed the hood, waited a few hours, moved the car will into the residential part of MtP and changed the headlights there. I’ve also been asked if I had drugs for sale and had to get out of the way of a giant drunk man who wanted to hug me and call me baby.

    I’m a woman who is almost 6′ tall and I feel for women who look more “assault-able” than me, because I assume I don’t get as much as smaller women do.

    • Fellow tall woman here, and I totally hear you. Obviously, there’s never any guarantee of absolute safety, but I’ve often felt like street harrassers and their ilk tend to zero in more so on petite women. (Also, while the truly hardcore catcallers would come onto a centenarian woman wearing a burlap sack, I’ve also found the street harrassment has eased a bit now that I’m in my mid-30s….yay for aging!)

  • It’s too bad. That program had been there for a long time. I think Sacred Heart still runs a daily dinner program though for all comers. Read more about that here

  • Petite woman – who lives 2 blocks away from this intersection – here. I was going to write a big long post about feeling unsafe in this area, but I think the most impactful thing I have to say is that it took me only two months of living in CH (I’ve lived here for almost 2 years) to stop taking Park on the way to the Metro/Target/Giant. I now plan my routes around where I know I’ve been harassed the most, so yeah. I’m glad that this has changed.

    • Sacred Heart, and the Hermano Pedro program, have been around for years, long before the neighborhood gentrified. Gentrification is recent. You are the newcomer. If the presence of the desperately poor in the inner city surpises you, I have to wonder what you were thinking when you moved here? Perhaps you aware gentrification displaced La Casa, another nearby shelter. Anyway, many of these men have been in this area a long time. All neighhborhoos have layers of new and not-so-new. The real estate people know this but they do not put it in their advertisements. If you are at all savvy, though, it surely cannot surpise you.

      • Aren’t the rebuilding/upgrading La Casa in basically the same place?

        And as a technicality, many of the homeless around that church are Salvadoran immigrants, some of whom do not predate gentrification in the area.

      • so wait…since they were in the neighborhood before her they are allowed to harass and assault and just generally by mean people? There is a lot wrong with people like you who think because they were here first they can do what ever they want. Being an jerk is being an jerk not matter if you are poor or rich or white or black or new or old.

        • I couldn’t agree more.

          Just because the harasser was in the neighborhood first doesn’t make it OK for him to be a harasser.

          • My remark was in reply to her final statement “I am glad this is gone.” What a mean thing to say. Anyway, the Hermano Pedro Program vanished because DC cut its funding.

          • Bruno–except YS’ final statement wasn’t “I’m glad this is gone”; she actually said “I’m glad that this has changed.” I took that statement to mean that she’s relieved that the conditions that fostered the street harrassment have changed. And as many other commenters have pointed out, I think the concern here is not directed generally at low-income or homeless or longtime DC residents, but rather at a specific set of behaviors that this specific set of individuals has perpetrated.

      • bruno,
        you seem to have a problem with reading comprehension. try reading it again.

        she’s expressing disgust at being harassed. this has NOTHING to do with whether or not someone is desperately poor. assholes come in all economic classes and landscapes, and all of them should be avoided.

      • Bruno, you’re missing the point. The debate has nothing to do with gentrification and everything to do with whether a shelter can be a good neighbor.

        In the mid to late 90’s I was the night supervisor of two different homeless shelters, one on each coast. The one in Boston was attached to City Hospital so there were no residences immediately nearby. At the one in San Francisco, which had a capacity of about 300, we were a 23-hour a day facility (2 hours to clean in the morning) and had a strict no-loitering policy. We tried to be good neighbors and did “patrols” around the building every hour in order to move our clients along. We also employed trusted clients to sweep the block once a day. In terms of our budget, these were very small contributions to good relations — which paid off immensely.

        It’s not the so-called “gentrifiers'” fault that the church apparently didn’t do things like that.

        • That’s a really good point, Anonymous 8:14. The shelters and churches around which these loitering and harassing occur need to be informed, held accountable to some extent, and maybe educated on their responsibilities to the community and neighborhood, and how to fulfill them. People like you who actually have experience mitigating the impact of a shelter on a neighborhood could get in touch with your local ANC commissioner and together could reach out to the troublesome shelter/church to demand action, but also provide tips on what kind of action is possible.

  • I used to live next door. One time I saw a drunk guy swing a punch at a random woman walking by. Fortunately, he was so drunk he missed by about 3 feet.

  • I pick my kid up at a school right across the park and never had much of any issue, except once two folks were about to break out into a fight right in front of me and my kid. Two of the corner dudes broke it up – screaming at them that there was a kid there. However I’m a guy, so don’t have to deal with the catcalls and the like.

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