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Thank you for your provocative article, “A Mighty Fortress” (12/8), which illustrated many of the problems our community is facing because of increased homelessness. Residents, schools, businesses, and churches are all struggling with the dilemma of how to protect themselves and their property from crime, violence, and vandalism without turning away from the desperate needs of our homeless neighbors. And we think the new Neighbors’ Consejo of Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights can help resolve this dilemma.

The Shrine of the Sacred Heart at 16th and Park Road NW is an example of a church that uses a new fence to protect its steps from human waste, drinking and drugging, and other kinds of very un-Christian behavior. It is also an example of a church that has turned a free breakfast program into a rehabilitation resource. With the assistance of outreach workers from the Neighbors’ Consejo, the breakfast program now includes referrals to shelter, substance abuse treatment and other health care services, jobs, and more resources. (The Neighbors’ Consejo, affiliated with the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions of Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, works to address the problems of homelessness and public drinking in these neighborhoods.) In the three months that service referral has been part of the Sacred Heart breakfast program, over 20 people have entered substance abuse treatment, and many more have taken the first critical step toward improving their lives by moving from the streets to shelter.

We of the Neighbors’ Consejo are hoping that this approach will make the evening meal program provided by McKenna’s Wagon in the park at Harvard and Mount Pleasant Streets NW more effective for the homeless people who need it and less destructive to the environment in the neighborhood. We are asking nearby churches to each take an evening and provide space for people to eat inside and take advantage of referrals to resources that can help them. To make a difference in the lives of homeless people, we need to give them more than handouts. We must provide the tools to deal with the underlying problems that caused them to become homeless. At the same time, we want to work with the community to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives and works in our neighborhoods.

In the short run, churches that feel overwhelmed by the pressures of homelessness may need to protect their property from the destructive behavior of desperate people. However, we of the Neighbors’ Consejo recognize the unrealized potential that churches in our part of the city have to help these desperate people improve their lives, and in the long run improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding these churches. We invite everyone who wants to be part of realizing this exciting potential to contact us at 202-234-6855.

Community Coordinator

Neighbors’ Consejo of Mount Pleasant

and Columbia Heights