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It’s hot as hell out. Now think about sleeping in your car with your girlfriend and your two children, ages two and four. Throughout much of June, this was Darnell Gibson‘s life.
Two years ago, Gibson, 26, lost his steady job. Ever since, he hasn’t been able to find stable employment. His savings ran out. He and his family had to leave their apartment. For a time, they crashed with family and friends. But Gibson says a lot of his family were living in subsidized housing with occupant restrictions. He says his family had been warned against letting in extra tenants. So, in June, Gibson was forced to move his family into their 1996 Chevy Suburban.
Nearly a month ago, Gibson filed a request for emergency shelter at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center. He says he arrived at the center at 9 a.m. He didn’t get assistance until nearly 5 p.m. Even then, the case worker, Gibson says, informed him that the D.C. General emergency shelter for families was full. His family would just have to wait. From June 9 to June 29, Gibson says that meant sleeping in the Suburban.
Sometimes, Gibson parked the Suburban outside family members’ homes. Other nights, they parked in hotel lots. When the Suburban got too hot, he’d turn on the AC for a few minutes. When the cool air dissipated, they’d all roll the windows down. “It was uncomfortable,” he says. “I wasn’t getting too much sleep.” Sometimes, he’d wake up and find himself scanning the area for would-be carjackers.
During the day, Gibson says the family took showers at family members’ homes and ate meals at his girlfriend’s mother’s house. He’d drive around looking for work. At sundown, they had to return to the Suburban. The kids would lay across the back seat.
“Every night was just about the same—I couldn’t sleep,” Gibson says. “Some nights the kids would be crying. I can’t even explain it. It was just horrible.”
When Gibson and his family finally moved into the D.C. General shelter, it wasn’t much of a relief. In fact, the Suburban had one advantage over the shelter: it had working AC.
Gibson says once his family moved into a room at D.C. General, the staff installed an air conditioner. But there was just one problem: the AC plug didn’t work with the room’s electrical outlets. So it just sat in the window. At least on two occasions, Gibson says he had to rush his girlfriend to the hospital because her “asthma was acting up.” [City Desk first reported the AC issue in June].
The AC still hasn’t been fixed. “Every day, they telling me ‘we’re going to get your AC working today,'” Gibson says.
Instead, Gibson has two fans. “But it just circulates hot air,” he says.
*photo taken by another D.C. General resident suffering with a similar non-working AC unit.