Ending Homelessness One Act at a Time
Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 02:02
Student relations with the neighborhood of Georgetown are often defined by our Friday- and Saturday-night brushes with the wealthy residents of West Georgetown. Relations with neighbors typically bring to mind late-night Student Neighborhood Assistance Program calls, discussion of building more on-campus housing and the blog called “‘Drunken’ Georgetown Students.” On the walk to Booeymonger, it is impossible to ignore the big, white signs advertising $4 million condominiums for sale on Prospect Street. However, among these icons of the D.C. establishment, there is also another part of our community that we all too frequently ignore — our neighbors without homes.
It is equally impossible to walk to the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street without passing a homeless man or woman on your way, many of whom you come to recognize depending on how frequently you find yourself in that part of the neighborhood. However, these neighbors, who arguably spend just as much time in the Georgetown area, are certainly not regarded as part of the Georgetown community.
According to the District of Columbia Interagency Council on Homelessness’s Point-in-Time Count, there were 6,859 individuals counted as literally homeless on one night in January 2013, meaning that the individuals accounted for either lived on the street, in a shelter or in transitional housing. This does not include individuals who are doubled up — e.g., they currently reside in hospitals, jails or foster care. But what does this statistic mean to the Georgetown community?
Homeless individuals are not considered part of our community because of the stigma associated with homelessness, the lack of permanent housing and simply the business of our daily lives.
While I do not have the answer to homelessness, I do believe that acknowledging the presence of homeless individuals in our neighborhood will bring about more awareness and compassion in the student body. Both individual actions and institutional practices to treat the homeless with more respect will become commonplace and eventually become part of the student mentality. Just as students know that there are certain neighborhood requirements on the weekends, hopefully there will become an intrinsic standard of acceptance and willingness to help our other neighbors.
Small acts of kindness can hopefully become part of the mentality of bettering the Georgetown community. For example, buying a sandwich or a warm drink can make a huge difference for someone who lives out in the cold. Or call D.C.’s Hypothermia Hotline — 1-800-535-7252 — a 24-hour resource that provides transportation to shelters as well as winter clothing. Although addressing homelessness is more complex than the quick fix offered by food and a night’s stay at a shelter, there are actions we can take that make a difference on a personal and individual level. A phone call may seem trivial, but it could save a person’s life.
These simple changes in the mentality of students, faculty and the Georgetown community as a whole can help us all become more respectful, accommodating and — most importantly — kind to all of our neighbors. Perhaps soon Georgetown will open an office to combat poverty in our neighborhood and devote funds and resources to do so. But this change will only occur at the grassroots level if it becomes ingrained in the character of Georgetown students to recognize and reach out to help their neighbors.
Next time you are on M Street shopping or grabbing a bite to eat, don’t just walk by. You don’t need to take the coat off of your back, but a small acknowledgment — just saying hello or buying an apple — can help a person’s day. When I was younger, a homeless man said hello to me, and I kept my head down; he quietly said, “I am human, too. I deserve a response.”
Grace Fenton is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.