About a dozen homeless advocates stood outside Kelly Miller Middle School in Lincoln Heights before Mayor Vince Gray‘s State of the District address Tuesday night, waiting to confront the mayor about what they said is his ineffective policy of prioritizing shelters over long-term housing for the District’s homeless population. The protestors had just participated in a mock funeral procession down the block and stood in front of a wooden coffin, symbolizing, they said, the homeless people that have died on D.C.’s streets because of city policies.
Their protest was certainly topical: Inside, Gray announced in his speech a campaign called “500 Families, 100 Days” that aims to move least 500 homeless families into rapid rehousing or permanent supportive housing between now and June, through outreach to potential landlords. (Housing Complex’s Aaron Wiener reported more on the initiative here.)
To the protesters’ disappointment, Mayor Vince Gray entered the Ward 7 school through the rear entrance. But the protestors carried on, standing in front of the entrance with signs that read “Resurrect Public Housing” and “End Homelessness Now,” looking for face time with reporters and D.C. politicians.
When At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds arrived for the speech, the protesters surrounded her, asking her about affordable housing and gentrification in the District.
“Do you believe in gentrification?” one of the activists asked.
“The District is in transition,” Bonds responded. “It’s all about the money.”
While the speech was going on, the D.C. Fair Budget Coalition projected a slideshow on the outside wall of the middle school, displaying facts about homelessness in the District and calling on Gray to do more.
“But first you have to get the problem straight, Mayor Gray. The crisis is not that the shelters are overflowing, the crisis is that so many people are homeless,” one of the slides read.
“They can rip the city off, but they can’t find us housing,” John Robert McDermott—-the founder of People for Fairness Coalition, the organization that helped organize the protest—-said of the city government’s affordable housing efforts.
Photo by Perry Stein