While new residential buildings rose at a record-setting pace in the District this year, homelessness increased at almost as rapid a clip. As year-end data reports on both homelessness and home construction were released in November, Housing Complex reporter Andrew Giambrone published their findings in separate articles.
Readers had little reaction to the unprecedented boom in new construction, and few offered comments on ballooning homelessness figures.
But putting a face to the city’s growing disparity seemed to move readers. Commenters were overcome by Giambrone’s recent story about a man found dead of apparent hypothermia during a mid-November cold spell. A woman saw him while walking her dogs in Columbia Heights before 7 a.m. He was in a wheelchair and wearing hospital pants. She asked passersby for help because she’d left her cell phone at home, but none would step up.
In response to the story, Georgetown Ministry (@gmcgt), which provides a special wintertime homeless shelter, tweeted this week, “Street outreach, hypothermia outreach, and shelter hotlines are so important.” D.C. Central Kitchen (@dcck), which trains unemployed adults for culinary jobs, tweeted, “There is much work to be done in this city.”
Others were equally moved. “[H]orrible story. the people who wouldn’t help this woman call 911 are terrible,” tweeted @libbycwatson. Even prolific City Paper commenter Typical DC BS, who in the same week characterized public housing as “taxpayer-provided nests,” was sympathetic towards the victim and the woman trying to help him, writing, “DC scum can’t even be bothered to call 911 when this nice lady asks for help for this poor guy.”
The story of the man found dead in a wheelchair, streetside, proves itself to be a microcosm of life in the District. Over the last five years, homelessness has jumped 27.7 percent in D.C., according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, while the issuance of construction permits increased by 42 percent. In straight numbers, that’s 8,350 homeless residents as of January, and 14,800 units of housing under construction as of August—mostly slotted to house “young professionals.”
Two discordant surges, each one serving as the dark underbelly of the other.
@Ward4Anderson tweeted the homelessness numbers, and @rbett responded, “Is that true?” @Ward4Anderson replied with a link to one of Giambrone’s articles and her own conclusion: “Not a matter to be proud of.”