The homeless of D.C. spend their days in the aged infrastructure of historic Union Station, hidden among throngs of tourists at the National Mall, and generally, anywhere they can rest without being forced away by police and other government authorities.
But there’s a growing population of homeless people who also choose to spend their nights sleeping outdoors in the same locations, despite the dozens of homeless shelters in the metro area with available beds.
Under a bridge near NoMa-Gallaudet metro station, tents can be seen along the walkway on both sides of the street.
In June, the homeless who camped out underneath the bridge were pushed out. The city confiscated and threw out all of their belongings and many fled and set up camp a few blocks away.
But months later, the tents are back up, this time with another notice of removal by the city, scheduled for Sept. 9.
But many of the homeless people who choose to sleep under these bridges say shelters aren’t the best alternative.
Kelly Hicks, who has multiple homeless family members, said there’s a significant risk for women and families that spend a night in a shelter. Many homeless women don’t want to go to shelters because of rape, abuse and because it’s unhealthy, Hicks said.
“The shelters can look clean but still have bed bugs,” said Richard, who’s been homeless for a year and a half. He chose not to disclose his last name.
“They also sleep wherever they pass out from drugs and exhaustion,” Chaplain Robert Garrison of the Central Union Mission Homeless Shelter said.
Garrison said homeless people in D.C. who choose not to spend the night in shelters sleep in multiple places including:
- Outside of Union Station
- Directly outside of homeless shelters
- 2nd Street and D Street
- 8th Street (near the Walmart)
- Wooded areas
Faces of homelessness
Construction worker Chuck Garrett, sleeps in his car. The financial support he received from his mother ended abruptly when she died a few years ago. Shortly after, he was evicted from the house they shared.
As a result, Garrett went broke from the costliness of sleeping in hotel rooms. He was opposed to sleeping in a shelter.
Eventually, Garrett was forced to live out of his car. His daughter’s mother won’t let Garrett see his own child because of his situation, which he said makes it that much more difficult to get back on his feet.
“I can’t even see my own daughter, which is a joy that would inspire me and make me want to work harder,” Garrett said.
There are others like Garrett who have jobs, steady income, and have no place to live. In fact, according to data pulled from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 15 percent of homeless people in D.C. are employed.
Garrett said it is important to not get stuck in the rut of hopelessness that may accompany living on the streets.
Milton Brown, TED Talk speaker and advocate for homelessness in D.C., said complacency is a key factor for prolonging poverty.
“When homelessness becomes a lifestyle, people become complacent with their situations,” Brown said. “You have to want to change your situation.”