Dear PoPville – Advice on Helping the Homeless?

by Prince Of Petworth April 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm 43 Comments


Dear PoPville,

I live on U Street between 14th and 13th and regularly walk past a homeless woman whom has made the stoop for the former Republic Gardens nightclub her hangout spot morning, noon and night where she congregates with other homeless, boozes, and asks for change. She also uses the alcove next to “her” stoop as her personal restroom, resulting in a constant and nauseating scent whenever you walk past. On occasion the walk from the stoop to the alcove is too much and she will just urinate where she sits. In recent weeks she has been an even more frequent fixture at this locations.

While I realize that homelessness and public urination (among other things) isn’t a new problem or even one unique to this location, it is without question disgusting.

Apart from notifying the police, which has proven useless in the past (I once informed a nearby officer that she was hammered and vomiting all over the stoop and sidewalk and he said “oh you mean [Susan], not much we can do about that”), is there anything else that can be done? This has to be a public health issue…right? She disappears for a few days from time to time, which I assume is when she either finds a new spot temporarily or is admitted somewhere but I suppose the allure of U Street keeps calling her back. Is there something that can be done as a more permanent solution?

Has anyone had success with DC’s Homeless Services?

  • Anonymous

    @DCPD: “Good job, good effort.”

  • GW Sigmas

    How come if this was a student urinating and vomiting on U street we’d get arrested in a heartbeat!

    • Alan

      That’s right. It warms my heart to know that someone is fighting the good fight to protect college students right to vomit and urinate on U St!

    • Good point!

    • you have better options on where to do those things

  • GC

    Title of this letter is misleading. I think the writer basically wants the lewd woman to disappear and never come back and she doesn’t care what actually happens to the woman so long as the disappearing-for-good part happens.

    • Anonymous

      I would too.

    • Farnsworth

      Yeah I was pretty surprised when I saw that title on this blog. But justifiably skeptical.

  • I suggest contacting N Street Village.
    They house homeless women and could probably offer you advice for what to do. They have been at this a long time and are not far from the location you describe. Thanks for helping.

    • Another option…

      Or maybe contact the National Coalition for the Homeless on P Street. Not sure if they can do anything but might be able advise.

  • Not surprised at MPD at all. Yeah there is nothing you can do because I think the police would be the ones to enforce the issue. I’m sure this is low on their list of priorities. Also homeless shelters what be the next avenue but they are probably short handed already and are dedicating their resources to the people who actually come into their doors rather than tracking down every wandering vagrant. This is one of the city living things you just have to put up with until the city stops slowing affluence and yuppiefication to where you can afford to have cops tackle these quality of life issues.
    I don’t go to Georgetown that often but I can’t remember the last time I saw a homeless person there.
    You can begin the attacks on my comment.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t go to Georgetown very often either but I’ve seen lots of homeless people asking for change along M Street.

      • Farnsworth

        Those are beggars

        • Anonymous

          But not homeless? How do you know?

          • Farnsworth

            I don’t, so I wouldn’t use such a strong label preemptively. They are begging though.

  • I wonder what the inside of Republic Gardens looks like at this point and what the sales price is?!

    Didn’t even know it was up for sale. Such a shame, it used to be the NW region’s top Hip-Hop club for many years in the early 90s…

    • Infested with rats. I hear the local businesses pay for extermination there to prevent them from coming to their establishments to no avail.

      • billy bob

        Why would Republic Gardens be infested with rats, there’s nothing to eat in there (maybe there are stagnant pools of water?). I think those rats came from the restaurants that told you that tale. LMAO.

  • I have gotten a hotel room for a homeless person in the past. You can do that if you have the means.

    • not really a long term solution though. generally speaking, most homeless folks just want to be left alone and aren’t looking for a shelter to come and ‘rescue’ them.

      sure, it’s gross and not fun to walk past, but it’s part of living in the city. frankly, i’d rather the mpd focus on catching theives, murderers, drug dealers, and other folks that are way more harmful to my health!

      for now just avert your eyes, hold your nose, and kick it into high gear as you walk by!

      • Anonymous

        Oy. When will “it’s part of living in a city” stop being used to promote inaction against serious or important issues (in this case, for both the woman herself and sanitation issues for the people around here).

        • anon


        • disagree. it’s not an excuse for inaction, it’s just a fact, plain and simple. urban areas tend to have more resources for the homeless than rural areas. i would want to live in a city too if i were homeless (for whatever reason – down on my luck, mental condition, drugs, alcohol, etc). folks have more access here in the dmv than they would in, say, danville, va. so yes, it’s a part of living in a city!

          should we try and help people? a resounding yes. but those that don’t want to be helped can’t be helped. and as i said before, i would rather the mpd focus on thieves, murderers, and other ‘bad guys’ rather than rounding up the homeless.


          • Anonymous

            No, not ok.

            This goes beyond seeing someone sleeping on a stoop, or the guys panhandling outside of every CVS, or even the people living (and presumably relieving themselves) under every bridge in the city. This is someone using the sidewalk as a toilet.

      • If you get someone a room for a month, say, that is enough time for them to get cleaned up, somewhat stablilized, and in contact with help. Offer her the room and let her answer for herself.

        • you are assuming that she wants help. quite often that’s the wrong assumption. i’ve worked with homeless in the past – and most of the time they want some food, money, and to be left alone.

          • I assume nothing. I simply say, Make her the offer and let her decide for herself.

          • Many destitute homeless are suffering from some form of schizophrenia. The problem is that they really can’t competently make decisions, like “Thanks for the room & board, I should get cleaned up and turn my life around” or “I should use a toilet instead of crapping my pants.”

            They are beyond gone and need full time, inpatient mental health services for the remainder of their lives. So unless people are willing to pay more in taxes to make that happen, the desperately homeless aren’t getting off the street anytime soon and you just need to accept it as a part of urban living.

        • Anonymous

          What happens if this person tears the room apart or steals things? I would never get a room for someone just for this reason. If they tear it up or steal I am the one that would have to pay for the repairs.

          • My my, such fear! Such rationalizations! If you see someone who needs a room, consider getting them a room. It is an idea so simple and basic that our bureaucratized world makes it sound complicated. This used to be very easy to do when cities had flophouses, but of course such inns have been legislated out of existence, which is too bad. Besides N Street Village, you can also contact SOME (So Others Might Eat).

  • Tim

    Ask her how you can help.

    • Anonymous


    • anon


      From the details (e.g., urinating where she sits), it sounds like this homeless woman has serious issues. I don’t think her judgment can be relied upon.

      • Tim

        Yes. She is homeless, she probably has some mental health or addiction issues. If OP really wanted to make an impact, she could ask the woman how she could help. I’m not suggesting she become her case worker, but I would (and have) get a little information and show some empathy before going directly to the police (I haven’t).

      • anon

        I also live nearby and I have seen this woman taken away in an ambulance on three occasions. Some days, she asks for money. Other days, she calls me “cracker b*tch.” She has serious mental health/addiction issues and until the city can come up with a solution to implement services that actually work for these people, its will be an unfortunate aspect of city living.

  • Anonymous

    If it is the same woman I am thinking of, she “lived” on my block for a few months. I have lived in DC for almost 8 years. 6 of that was in the same place and I would walk to work everyday. I saw the same 3 homeless guys on my walk to and from my home. They are actually still there and I have lived there for a year. They have become fixtures that aren’t doing any real harm. They appear not to be in a hurry to find a home or go to a shelter.

    The police aren’t going to help you move them unless they are actually committing a crime. Even then, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on the police to arrive. All you can do is find a new route to walk or just walk quickly past her. There is very little you can do to get her to leave.

  • OP

    OP here,

    Thank you all for your suggestions. I should have added more background to this story, particularly since I am well aware of how some of the comments turn on here. I have tried in the past multiple ways to help her, from giving her donations of food items (not exactly met with gratitude), offering to assist to the local womens shelter, and speaking with other local business owners about what they have done and potential solutions they see. She does not want help and has made that clear. She is perfectly content to stoop all day and turn public space into her own living room and bathroom. I’m not bothered that she is ruining my “cool” neighborhood, not am I ignorant to “city life” I am however disgusted that someone can turn a well-traveled piece of public space (with a generally heavy police presence) into her personal restroom and there is seemingly nothing that can done about it except to grin and bear it as some have suggested. It is disgusting, period.

    And as a side note, PoP, not I chose the name of the post. You’re right, I’m not very much interested in helping her as those efforts have failed, I am instead looking for a sensible solution to something that I very much view as a problem.

    • Tim

      Thank you for the context. That was good of you to offer her help personally. Getting her “kicked out” of the stoop will just push her somewhere else. Maura’s advice is probably best.

  • The approach I’ve taken with the chronic homeless on my corner is to, once they are passed out, call an ambulance. The person you are talking about here is legitimately in need of medical attachment. If I see a person passed out and covered in vomit or excrement, I would call an ambulance for them. On my corner this has helped. Once you call an ambulance on somebody a few times, they tend to stay away from that corner.

  • Marcus Aurelius

    I believe that loitering is not against the law in DC, so the police can’t just remove this woman from that property just because she is camped out on it. But it is illegal to trespass, so if the owner of the property swears out a no trespass order (something stating that no one has permission to be on the premises), it will empower the police to remove her.
    If you want the police to be able to remove this woman just because she is sitting on that stoop, you should contact the owner of the property.
    If the woman is engaging in behavior that poses a danger to herself or others, you can call the Department of Mental Health. I believe they have hotlines to take these kinds of reports.

  • Maura

    I worked in Homeless Services for years. There are a few options. Unity Healthcare has a mobile van that offers medical and social servicesl. You can call and ask them to swing by and see her: (202) 276-3381. The city also runs mobile Homeless Outreach Teams that will go to her. You can reach them via the Access Helpline at 1-888-793-4357. Sadly, she may already be “connected” to a service provider. People like her fall through the cracks all the time.

  • sbc

    You can call the Shelter Hotline at 1-800-535-7252

    But if the person doesn’t want to go to a shelter, or there aren’t shelters available (DC only makes shelters available to everyone who wants them during hypothermia season) they can’t make her. And loitering and public intoxication are not crimes in DC. Drinking in public and public urination are crimes, but police will generally only address them if they see them, not if they get a report.


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