City Desk

D.C. General Shelter Still Has AC Problem

It's hot as hell out. Now think about sleeping in your car with your girlfriend and your two children, ages two and four. Throughout much of June, this was Darnell Gibson's life.

Two years ago, Gibson, 26, lost his steady job. Ever since, he hasn't been able to find stable employment. His savings ran out. He and his family had to leave their apartment. For a time, they crashed with family and friends. But Gibson says a lot of his family were living in subsidized housing with occupant restrictions. He says his family had been warned against letting in extra tenants. So, in June, Gibson was forced to move his family into their 1996 Chevy Suburban.

Nearly a month ago, Gibson filed a request for emergency shelter at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center. He says he arrived at the center at 9 a.m. He didn't get assistance until nearly 5 p.m. Even then, the case worker, Gibson says, informed him that the D.C. General emergency shelter for families was full. His family would just have to wait. From June 9 to June 29, Gibson says that meant sleeping in the Suburban.

Sometimes, Gibson parked the Suburban outside family members' homes. Other nights, they parked in hotel lots. When the Suburban got too hot, he'd turn on the AC for a few minutes. When the cool air dissipated, they'd all roll the windows down. "It was uncomfortable," he says. "I wasn't getting too much sleep." Sometimes, he'd wake up and find himself scanning the area for would-be carjackers.

During the day, Gibson says the family took showers at family members' homes and ate meals at his girlfriend's mother's house. He'd drive around looking for work. At sundown, they had to return to the Suburban. The kids would lay across the back seat.

"Every night was just about the same–I couldn't sleep," Gibson says. "Some nights the kids would be crying. I can't even explain it. It was just horrible."

When Gibson and his family finally moved into the D.C. General shelter, it wasn't much of a relief. In fact, the Suburban had one advantage over the shelter: it had working AC.


Gibson says once his family moved into a room at D.C. General, the staff installed an air conditioner. But there was just one problem: the AC plug didn't work with the room's electrical outlets. So it just sat in the window. At least on two occasions, Gibson says he had to rush his girlfriend to the hospital because her "asthma was acting up." [City Desk first reported the AC issue in June].

The AC still hasn't been fixed. "Every day, they telling me 'we're going to get your AC working today,'" Gibson says.

Instead, Gibson has two fans. "But it just circulates hot air," he says.

*photo taken by another D.C. General resident suffering with a similar non-working AC unit.

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  • Manor

    or he could buy an 80 cent plug adapter to make the AC plug work.

  • tired

    Manor that is not his job. This was the shelter management's job to fix that problem

  • Rick Mangus

    A hear a lot a bitching and complaining, I agree with 'Manor' get off you ass and take control of your life, maybe that why your their looking for the "Nanny State!

  • Manor

    tired, so yeah, he's burning up but at least he hasn't lifted a finger to compensate for shelter mismanagement. By the way, there's probably like 6 maintenance guys for hundreds of units. They're probably union mandated to only do three things a day. But the guy sure shouldn't take advantage of opportunities to improve his lot, that might lead to not being poor.

    A poor guy with a Suburban. Ha.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Manor, I should add that the every day, Gibson says, the shelter's staff promised that a work crew would take care of his AC unit. And every night, the staff would say, sorry, we promise that the crew will get to your room the next day.

    And, as mentioned in the story, the Suburban is 14 years old. Not exactly a luxury ride let alone proper home.

  • Manor

    Okay, sorry for missing the age of the Suburban. If he wants to keep waiting for the maintenance guys thats his business, or he can take matters into his own hands, which might do some good. This leads to a broader point of contention I have: who benefits from social services over the long term? When people become so dependent on city and federal caretakers they cannot even get a plug adapter on their own, they're simply slaves, warehoused by poverty pimps who profit nicely off them. I just don't get it. Twenty years of living in the ghetto and I see so many people incapable of taking care of themselves and waiting for someone to help them. News flash: you're on your own in this world.

    Best of luck to him of course, there but for the graces of the gods go I.

  • Georgia Avenue Day

    DC jail, where individuals are confined to cells and can't just walk out to get a breath of fresh air has been without air conditioning for the last two weeks of 100 degree temperatures.

    Jason hopefully you find this newsworthy.

  • Rick Mangus

    'Jason Cherkis', if you're so concern about these people then invite them over to your house I'm sure you have AC, in plain words, PUT UP OR SHUT UP!

  • Sally

    If the DC General shelter is that bad, then its residents could just go over to P.G. County and seek better taxpayer-paid accommodations there.

  • Jason Cherkis

    It's always refreshing to know D.C. just isn't very liberal or open-hearted unless folks are trying to save streetcars from budget cuts, lobby for $400,000 dog parks, or devote too much time wondering when Meridian Pint will finally open its doors.

    It's even more amazing to hear comments echo Reagan's BS from the early '80s.

  • Manor

    Jason, I am somewhat liberal and do believe in charity, but I just don't think our social support programs are really improving much of anything in DC. I guess its a victory to get people off the streets, but do we then doom them to a lifetime of having others do for them?

    Regardless, I know I am out of place in DC and relatively conservative. I think that in 10 years the situation in DC will be much the same, and that simply makes me question the efficacy of current social programs. No offense meant.

    Are you the author jason cherkis or someone who just hijacked his name?

  • Jason Cherkis

    I'm the author. Social programs need to be held accountable, is all. I don't get the knee-jerk blame-the-victim BS that passes for tough love on this thread and elsewhere. I have yet to meet a lazy homeless mother at D.C. General who's like I love it hear, I'm going to abuse the system and stay as long as I can.

  • Manor

    Point taken, thanks, you'd know better than I that's for sure. How about follow up story: why didn't Gibson get an 80 cent plug adapter? Is it really "that simple" as I say, or is even a plug adapter somehow out of reach? Or perhaps that wasn't the problem at all?

    Who makes money off that shelter, anyways, and how much?

  • Rick Mangus

    Again 'Jason Cherkis', put up or shut up! stop playing the part of a journalist, went your nothing but a hack!

  • Rick Mangus

    Correction, WHEN not WENT!

  • Sally

    Jason - Are you a journalist or an activist? Because from your writing, it's pretty clear you're not interested in a unbiased recounting of events; you're inserting yourself into the story and telling only one perspective - the one that requires more money for the same social welfare programs that have failed to make a difference after decades and billions of taxpayer dollars.

    And it's hardly "Reaganesque" to point out that if welfare recipients are so unhappy with DC taxpayer-provided services, they are perfectly free and welcome to move across the border to Maryland or Virginia and seek better taxpayer accommodations there. If you're a parent, rather than sleeping in a hot room or in a car, wouldn't you be looking day and night for a better place for your children, rather than waiting for the government to fix it all for you?

    Your editors and the City Paper ownership needs to figure out what your role is. Because it's clearly not presenting journalism. In the past few months as the temporary Loose Lips, your comments went beyond snark into full-on hostility and bias. Your engagements on these threads further shows your not interested in being an unbiased journalist. And your youth shows you have no recollection of "the good old days" of the Barry era that you apparently long for.

    In short, you're really hurting whatever credibility the City Paper has left.

    And that's the last time I bother to take seriously anything with your byline on it. It's pointless since we already knew what the conclusion is before we need to get past the lede.

  • Rick Mangus


  • downtown rez

    A lot of people in this city who own their homes don't have AC. Both for reasons of economic necessity or choice. I've lived a long time as one of them- for both reasons. At first I couldn't really afford AC, then I decided that I valued the architectual symmetry- the asthetics- of my pre-war apartment more than I valued the temperature control that AC provides. So I opened my windows and used fans and took a lot of cold showers, and actually liked it very much and fondly recall those days.
    My next door neighbor (who just finished paying his 30 year note) doesn't have AC in his home. He, his wife, his children, their grandchildren, all seem to be doing quite well. They've never had AC.
    The fact is that, unless one is at-risk due to general poor health or illness, or behaves stupidly, heat is an inconvenience, not a real threat.
    But yeah, sure, AC can be nice, and it would also be nice to have our shelters in perfect shape and perfectly comfortable for everyone. I guess it would also be nice if my neighbor could afford to modernize his home, but his fixed income probably doesn't allow for that. As for us, our AC needed a new filter to work right, and we just bought and installed it.

  • Rick Mangus

    It's strange how quiet Jason Cherkis is!, what's the matter Jason have people figured you for the hack that you are!

  • tired

    For all of you that seem to be upset with Jason, he has been the only one keeping it real and being truthful. Sure some people don't have a/c but he is pointing out something about DC General has a shelter. I am still awaiting on information regarding the 2 children that passed away there and if it weren't for Jason we would not know about it. So all your so called conservatives I hope and pray you and your family never have to go there. Jason don't let these people get you down KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

  • Rick Mangus

    'tired', Jason is a child trying to be a grown-up and thinks he's a JOURNALIST, for which he is not, and not even close! You report the news minus you take or opinion, it shows that CP will hire anyone! As far as one of the infants killed, the mother rolled over on the child while sleeping!

  • Jason Cherkis

    Sorry Rick. I was out of town today. Didja miss me?

    On my way home, I finally figured out what is so troubling about you and the others with your anti-homeless rants. It's not just your pathetic Reagan BS. It's that you all sound a lot like Sharron Angle--the latest crazy Tea Party leader who's running against Harry Reid in Nevada.

    As you probably do not recall, Angle recently referred to the unemployed as "spoiled."

    Take look, maybe you'll see yourself. But I doubt it.

  • Manor

    Please do keep doing stories on the shelter, sorry we can't all get along ;)