City Desk

Chatter: Shelter Skelter

noplacelikehomeAs D.C. weathered icier-than-normal temperatures this winter, its population of homeless families exploded, catching city social services underprepared, as Aaron Wiener explored in last week’s cover story. It was “a very different (but great, and sad) This Town story,” tweeted National Journal staffer Matt Berman. On Twitter, D.C. statehood activist Josh Burch wrote that the piece reminded him of the Hubert H. Humphrey quote, “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” Not long after the story ran, the DC Fair Budget Coalition launched an email campaign urging councilmembers to work against the city’s practice of housing homeless families in recreation centers.

One commenter, Dagny T, described her own experience being homeless in D.C. between 2007 and 2010. At the city-run shelter in the former D.C. General Hospital, “‘residents’ had to leave at 7 a.m. and were not allowed back in until 7 p.m. The single large room was filled with metal bunk beds, housing a total of 150 or so women, almost all either just out of prison or having mental health issues. The bathroom contained four toilets and three shower stalls for all the women. There was no storage for personal items, so everything you owned had to be taken with you when you left the shelter in the morning. I was regularly woken at 3:30 a.m. by 140 women arguing with their invisible ‘friend.’ Out of self-defense I took to arising at 4:30 a.m. to shower and leave by 6, when all the other women were just starting to get up.” Of the family shelter at D.C. General, she wrote, “while not ideal, at least the residents have their own rooms and don’t have to leave every morning. No, homelessness is not a palatable option, but at least the families staying there do have a roof over their heads!”

Public officials attributed the crisis to a confluence of little affordable housing and the vapor trails of the Great Recession. Reader spmoore offered a diagnosis: “The demolition and elimination of thousands of public housing units in the last 10 to 15 years has resulted in a definite spike in family homelessness. There are simply less units to house low income families in need...Society and the city seems perfectly fine with demolishing public housing, negatively stereotyping public housing, and then act so concerned about the homeless spike.”

Straight to the ’Dogs

You can take Ben’s out of U Street, but can you take U Str—oh, you know where we’re going with this. Reacting to last week’s Young & Hungry column on the expansion of Ben’s Chili Bowl into Virginia and other parts of D.C., reader Derek seemed to wonder what the half-smoke institution would lose away from its U Street NW cradle. “You nailed it on why a Bud is great at a baseball game,” he wrote. “A chili half-smoke will always remind me of U Street.”

Other readers were less enchanted by Ben’s chili-dog magic. “Arlington already has a many-decades-old great half-smoke place, one of the last authentic sites in the county: Weenie Beenie in Shirlington,” commented Chester. “No indoor seating and yuppies mostly scared away by the harmless immigrant guys across the street looking for day work. The food is great as are the prices...So flock to Ben’s in Rosslyn, all you posers. More space at the Beenie for me.”

Department of Corrections

Due to a reporting error, last week’s Chatter page incorrectly said that a campaign wants to replace “Sea of Japan” with the “East Sea” in Virginia textbooks; in fact, its aim is to list one alongside the other.

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