City Desk

D.C.’s Approach To Homelessness: ‘It’s Still Big Buildings Full Of People’

robertIn light of the overcrowded mess going on at D.C. General's emergency shelter for families, I thought I should call Robert Egger. As founder and president of DC Central Kitchen, Egger is unmatched as this city's most forward-thinking authority on homeless issues.

Years ago, Egger had approached city officials about moving away from sheltering homeless individuals in warehouses. He had a plan: Sell CCNV and put the profits in a trust that would go towards opening up a multipurpose homeless center. In 2000, I lived at CCNV and found it to be a hellhole.

Egger's center would provide shelter on some floors and retail on the first floor that would be staffed by residents. There would also be job training as well as a home renovation program. Residents would renovate abandon properties and then those properties would be used for low-income housing.

Let's just say city hall pretty much ignored Egger's big idea. When City Desk talked to him today, he was still saddened that the District's approach to homelessness hadn't changed all that much since his idea got rejected.

"I still am vexed by how behind the times D.C. is when it comes to its homeless programs and how unwilling they are to go forward," Egger says. "It’s still big buildings full of people."

Meanwhile, Egger's kitchen is still a force. During the snowstorm, Egger says his nonprofit produced 70,000 meals.

*photo courtesy of DC Central Kitchen.

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  • downtown rez

    Wow. Awesome CCNV story "Helter Shelter". Belated kudos.

  • B

    Wellll... I think retail staffed by homeless residents but owned by the city is a terrible and completely unworkable idea. Let's put in a Starbucks directly under a homeless shelter! Hell, let's put in a McDonalds directly under a homeless shelter. There will be pee smell on the floor and every seat will be taken. I mean, really, THIS is the big idea? Jason if you had a shred of dignity you would have shredded this utterly stupid idea.

    Slummers, feel-gooders and cultural tourists might have gone to that place and made up, you know, 20 customers per day.

    I am no expert on homelessness but I know this- I'm a rich white boy, all of the homeless people I knew personally got there because they would not work, would not get help and would not apologize to their ex-girlfriend or parents or whomever they royally pissed off.

    I was in Boston in 2007 and this kid has his hand out asking for money, real aggressive, I turned to him and spat out: "It's time for you to call your parents, apologize for taking their money for tuition and f*cking around in college. Now move home, get a job waiting tables and pay them back. NOW!"

    Do you know what the kid told me? Do you know what he said?

    "I will. I have to now."

    So go ahead, tell me about how some poor schizophrenic's mother never took him to the doctor and never kept his disease under control. Give me a solution for that. give me a solution for "I'm too embarrassed to call my parents and ask to live with them." Give me a solution for "I love to drink, yum."

    but a homeless retail store? You understand that when it comes to shopper psychology "Severe BO Smell" is probably the #3 turnoff, right?

    Come back to earth, we need solutions for this planet.

  • robert egger

    Come on down to DCCK and see it in action, B...right down at 2nd and D. I dog dare you

  • B

    Dude, I totally work in Southwest and drove by there this morning. Why do you think I was incredulous?

  • B

    And I worked with Mitch when I was in college 25 years ago. And before I knew any better I thought he was a genius. And then I saw more and more unworkable ideas. The homeless need to be brought into the capital markets. That is the only thing that will get them out.

    My wife had an assistant, angry at The Man for keeping him down. Guy hated making calls, hated making copies, snuck out of work early. The office Christmas party rolls around and he mentions that he was painting his aunt's kitchen for $200. I told him to start his own painting company, hire laborers, go to his aunts' churches and tell people he'd paint their rooms for $200 per room. 6 months later he quit my wife's company, had taken out his braids (can't win church lady customers looking like a gangster) and had his own sign glued to the side of his pickup truck. The guy had his own company and employees.

    I don't care if his company went up in smoke during the housing downturn, capitalism changed that guy for the better.

    The city should give homeless people loans to open window washing or painting or cleaning companies where these people learn to get their own customers. Yes, sure, there taxes will be a royal pain, but... Look, I saw an angry young man who spent all day rapping in front of the copy machine start his own painting company.

  • creditfail

    I see the Post has jacked the story without giving credit to WCP.

  • creditfail

    Wait, I'm sorry but did the Post piece on this seriously just end with this quote or am I having a stroke? "If people really feel that it's so bad, they should leave. It's not that bad a place."

  • Truth Hurts

    Jason: Thanks for putting this longstanding problem in historical context. I read your 2000 CCNV piece (thanks for the link) . In addition to being well-written, it brought me back to the Mitch Snyder/Carol Fennelly days when Snyder's hunger strike made Reagan blink first.

    A little known and ironic factoid: Peter Nickles represented Snyder/Fennelly pro bono and was smack in the middle of the CCNV/President Reagan game of chicken.

    Think about that one.

  • downtown rez

    Think about that one.
    I think it's pretty cool...