“the many homeless on our DC streets need our help – in the shadow of the Watergate bldgs there are growing encampments”


“Dear PoPville,

With freezing temps nightly, the many homeless on our DC streets need our help. Mayor Browser speaks of addressing this growing issue as one of immense importance. And yet, in the shadow of the Watergate bldgs there are growing encampments under and around the Whiteshurst freeway.

Yes, these burgeoning camps are an unwelcome blight for all entering DC from Va on the Roosevelt bridge. But, more importantly they showcase how some in our prosperous, growing city are now stuck in an economic downward spiral.

As I was photographing one encampment I was able to talk to a father and his female companion along with his grown son and a female friend. I told them I’d send these photographs to ms. Bowser to alert her to their situation.

I’m hopeful we can help some of those on the streets of DC these cold winter nights as more of us send our concerns to the mayor’s office.

Paul Di Vito”

Ed. Note: From Department of Human Services:

“The District of Columbia is committed to protecting the homeless from extreme weather injury by meeting the demand for shelter during hypothermia (not enough heat) and hyperthermia (too much heat) seasons.

The District’s Winter Plan for homeless services went into effect on November 1. When the temperature falls below 32° Fahrenheit between November 1 and March 31, all people who are homeless must be housed.

You can help. Call the Shelter Hotline when you see a person who is homeless who may be impacted by extreme temperatures.


The Shelter Hotline is operated by the United Planning Organization (UPO). You can reach the hotline in four ways:

[email protected]
(202) 399-7093
1 (800) 535-7252 (for toll-free calls from a pay phone)


Families seeking emergency shelter should go to the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center at 920 Rhode Island Avenue, NE. The shelter operates between the hours of 8 am and 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday (except for holidays and days on which the District government is closed). After 3:30 pm and on weekends, during extrene temperature alerts, families should call the Shelter Hotline for transportation to the DC General family shelter or other available family shelter.

Some of the severe weather shelters operate from 7 pm to 7 am during extreme temperature alerts only.

Seasonal Shelters

Other single adult hypothermia and hyperthermia beds will also be available 7 pm to 7 am. These shelters open at the time of the first alert of the season and remain open every day of the extreme temperature season. These are seasonal shelters.

Overflow single adult shelters operate only when all other shelters are near capacity.”

UPDATE from the Mayor’s Office:

“Mayor Muriel Bowser is activating the city’s Cold Emergency Plan, to take effect this evening and through the early morning hours of Friday, January 9, in anticipation of frigid weather over the coming days. Officials at the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) have informed the Mayor that conditions exist that require the plan to be activated at 9:00 pm this evening. A Cold Emergency Alert is issued whenever the actual or forecasted temperature, including the wind chill factor, falls to 15˚F or to 20˚F with precipitation.

HSEMA, the Department of Human Services (DHS) and other city agencies have determined that the weather as forecast presents a danger to people out in the cold. By activating the Cold Emergency Plan, Mayor Bowser authorizes the District to implement additional measures beyond traditional sheltering, such as warming sites, to keep residents who are homeless warm and safe.

“Tonight and tomorrow we are expecting temperatures to drop to as low as the mid-teens. Temperatures that cold can be dangerous for many of our friends and neighbors, including seniors, the homeless and less fortunate residents who may lack adequate heating or clothing. The District has the resources to keep our residents safe and secure. Activating our Cold Emergency Plan allows the city government to deliver vital services to residents when and where they need it most,” said Mayor Bowser.

Individuals who are homeless should request transportation to a shelter or warming site by calling the Shelter Hotline at 202-399-7093, 211 or 311, or toll free from a payphone at 1-800-535-7252.

The general public may request assistance for individuals who are homeless by contacting the Shelter Hotline or emailing [email protected] An emailed report should include the time when the person was seen, their specific location, and a description of the person’s appearance.”

23 Comment

  • Anyone know what do I do if I see this in a neighboring county?

    I once overheard an ArlCo police officer tell a homeless person to go to DC.

    • justinbc

      Lots of neighboring states tell their homeless to come here, especially after they started putting people in hotels. They make them think it’s a regular thing, rather than just to prevent extreme cold weather illness.

      • Well, DC does have better homeless services than many (if not all) of the surrounding counties. Cops and social workers from MD & VA have been saying this stuff for decades now. And DC pays for it all.

        • Maybe better services than PG County, but way less likely than ArlCo. I’ve sat in on Arlington meetings in which residents and social workers talk about homeless people in DC being told to go to Arlington. It’s probably done by every county.

          • I would say Arlington is better run, but DC has more favorable laws. Or does Arlington now have a law requiring them to house every homeless person during hypo/hyperthermia?

      • It’s because DC’s homeless services are required by law to provide accommodations to ALL comers if the weather is a certain legally-defined level of inclement.

  • Step 1, start addressing the primary problem: mental illness, not the symptom: homelessness. Fact: meta-analyses and independent studies of the social problem of homelessness find that 85-87% of persons who are homeless had chronic mental illness throughout their lives. Additionally, persons who are chronically mentally ill are at greater risk of: becoming homeless, returning to homelessness, and dying while homeless than persons who are homeless primarily as the result of a job loss or natural disaster. If you want to help support the growing institutionalization opportunities and community based treatment options espoused by the NASW and APA and AMA.

    • +1

      But to add to that thread, don’t give them money, clothes or blankets. Your one off donation only enables them to stay off the grid, instead donate your time, money or things to a shelter or soup kitchen and give the homeless you want to help the information on how to get there and get help. We need to encourage them to come in and get a bed, get a meal and hopefully then get treatment. As callous as it may sound, you’re doing more harm than good giving a homeless person one off things that may assuage your guilt, but further entrench them.

    • This is actually completely incorrect, according to current research. The Housing First approach, which has been adopted by leading homelessness organizations in the country and is advocated for by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, works to get people experiencing homelessness into housing first, which can serve as a platform and a much more stable environment to tackle problems such as mental health, substance abuse, etc. http://usich.gov/usich_resources/solutions/explore/housing_first/

      • I have to agree with this. I’ve been an overnight staff supervisor of two different large homeless shelters on both coasts (in the 90s, pretty much in a past life). When I first heard of the Housing First movement I thought like John above and figured it was an unworkable solution because there was no way to keep people in the housing without addressing the underlying issues. Since then I’ve done a 180 and see the value in Housing First, provided there’s a commitment — both financial and programmatic — to provide comprehensive services for which the housing can serve as a platform. If for no other reason, scrambling for a bed each night can take an enormous amount of time and energy. When I was in the field, I noticed that it was often a job’s worth of effort for a lot of homeless people, even those who had their acts relatively together. After that was done a lot of those people were not able to focus on much else productive. Removing that one (huge) thing off someone’s to-do list could have a significant stabilizing effect.

  • absolutely nothing can be done to prevent these encampments on public space, which is why you see so many of them. these folks can be offered services, but not forced to move. considering the state of dc general and other shelters, this is a better option for many.

  • From Foundry United Methodist and The Washington Interfaith Network:
    Meeting with the Mayor:
    “The Washington Interfaith Network has arranged a meeting with Muriel Bowser in her first week in office as the new DC Mayor. Join us at St. Augustine Catholic Church (1419 V St NW) on Jan. 8th at 7pm as we present with other congregations our priorities around homelessness, housing, and jobs.”

  • We can help out several homeless folks throughout the year by buying and reading Street Sense. Not only does Street Sense offer folks a job and a voice, it helps those of us with homes and jobs to understand the daily struggles they face.

  • Thanks for posting this. I frequently see homeless folks during freezing cold evening weather and wish I could do something realistic (and safe for me) to help. It’s nice to know there’s a number I can call.

    No bs, I’m writing that number down and putting it in my wallet.

  • On a similar note…here is a great page that profiles some of the homeless in DC and gives them a voice. It’s just getting started, but I’d recommend giving them a like and following their page. Helps to give some insight and provides a new prospective to those of us who have never experienced homelessness. https://www.facebook.com/personfirstproject/timeline

  • Allison

    Just re-read the paragraph from above about families seeking shelter, thinking as a homeless person with limited information and resources, and consider whether you would want to deal with that maze of bureaucracy: not being able to arrive before 8am, getting tossed out after 3:30pm or shuttled to another notoriously overcrowded facility, or hopping between shelters that may or may not be open only 7pm to 7am depending on how severe the weather is.

  • “In the shadow of . . .” is always the worst, most maudlin, trite and lame “leads.” Homelessness is complicated. Many good agencies help it – i.e. Miriam’s Kitchen. Give them money.

  • Just want to applaud the commentary on this thread, which is the opposite of the usual Internet trolling, but instead largely thoughtful, informed and compassionate. The housing-first approach in places like (I believe) Denver and Utah has indeed proven to be enormously successful, from what I’ve read and understand. Build permanent housing first, and then it’s much easier to provide needed services. For a relatively small amount of money, we could dramatically reduce homelessness, and with the benefit of huge long-term savings. It’s win-win.

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