Former Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2007 began referring to homeless people as “our homeless neighbors.”
It was an attempt to humanize the homeless problem, although few neighborhoods then or now think of the homeless that way.
“This is the premier example of how not to care for our homeless neighbors,” Fenty said in October 2007 when he began closing the bleak D.C. Village in far Southeast Washington. “It’s not only inhumane but against best practices.”
Fenty’s administration would come to depend upon the old D.C. General as its go-to shelter for the homeless.
Now Mayor Muriel Bowser is trying to find new housing strategies to close down D.C. General. It has become its own hellhole for our homeless neighbors. Her administration is looking to provide more permanent housing than shelters, but so far homelessness has been an intractable problem.
“D.C. General is full again, and it will remain that way for another summer, another winter and beyond — all while many of the same perils there for children remain,” Washington Post reporters Aaron C. Davis and Justin Jouvenal wrote this past weekend.
Still, there is a different sort of “neighbor” now filling up our neighborhoods.
They don’t need shelters. They don’t need assistance.
They are mostly youthful and white. They have money to spend, and they are changing neighborhoods in all four quadrants of our city radically.
The city’s population is now 658,893 people, a historic rebound from the dire 1990s. The city has had nine straight years of population growth.
And the Post reported in a separate story that for the first time in four decades, young voters outnumber older voters who traditionally have dominated elections here.
The Post analysis documented the continuing decline in the influence of African-American voters, losing ground in both population and impact at the polls.
It’s no longer news that the nation’s capital, our city and our neighborhoods are changing before our eyes.
The news will be in answering the question, what are we becoming?
■ Your neighborhood streetcar? NBC4 reported in early February that the city’s much ballyhooed but troubled streetcar system was likely to be killed or cut back to one or two anemic lines, compared to the originally planned 37-mile system. New D.C. Department of Transportation director Leif Dormsjo was noncommittal last week. Well, actually, he was quite dismissive of the whole thing.
And on Monday, Mayor Bowser and Dormsjo placed another nail in the streetcar coffin, promising that an independent review would be completed in time to be reflected in Bowser’s 2016 budget, due April 15 to the D.C. Council.
Bowser said she had been a supporter of streetcars, but as mayor she is looking at the big picture of budgets and practicality.
“What I don’t support is a system that doesn’t go all the places that it should, that isn’t safe or doesn’t work,” Bowser said in response to NBC4. “Those are the issues DDOT is studying right now.”
■ Our soccer neighbors. The new soccer stadium in Southwest Washington should get under construction later this year. That means new, expensive apartments and condos nearby and threats to low-income citizens that they’ll be priced out of the area.
Mayor Bowser said Tuesday she’s working to protect low- and moderate-income families and will announce next month how she intends to fulfill a campaign pledge to spend $100 million a year on the issue.
The mayor made the comments while announcing a “labor peace agreement” for workers who will staff the new soccer stadium in Southwest. Construction should begin late this year.
At the event, Mayor Bowser was reunited with hotel housekeeper Juanita King, the Marriott worker who last September showed then-mayoral candidate Bowser how to clean hotel rooms and properly make the beds.
King had told reporters in September that her union job through Unite Here Local 25 was providing money to support her family, and she said she hoped to be able to buy a home in the city. On Tuesday, she told us she has been saving money and now is actively looking for her new home in Southeast Washington. With her can-do spirit, she’s going to make some neighbors happy wherever she winds up.
■ Our valet neighbors. You ever wonder how valet companies can take over public space and park cars willy-nilly? You might want to attend a Transportation Department discussion on the issue. It will be held Thursday, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Reeves Center (2000 14th St. NW). Read more here.
■ Our Maryland neighbors. U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s announced plan to not run for re-election has set off a Democratic donnybrook in the state. (In case you’re wondering, Merriam-Webster says “donnybrook” dates back to the mid-1800s and refers to “Donnybrook Fair,” an “annual Irish event known for its brawls.”)
The early favorite is Montgomery County Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a popular state politician. He was endorsed Monday by all nine members of the Montgomery County Council. Van Hollen already had been endorsed by leaders including Attorney General Brian Frosh and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid also has chimed in with an early endorsement, but it’s unclear what impact he’ll have. Van Hollen doesn’t need any help raising money.
But yesterday Prince George’s Rep. Donna Edwards was getting into the race, too. Edwards got her start challenging the party leaders and then-powerful incumbent Rep. Al Wynn, and she’s been rising in the House minority leadership. Don’t underestimate her.
Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.