Some Northeast D.C. residents are pushing for safer pedestrian zones for underpasses with many homeless encampments.
A neighborhood group in NoMa released a letter citing concerns about aggressive panhandling, drug use and sanitation issues Wednesday, calling for safety rules and limits for underpass residents.
The NoMa Business Improvement District “is deeply troubled by the fact that pedestrian residents, workers, and visitors — including people with disabilities and parents pushing strollers — are being forced into the roadbed to get through the streets of NoMa,” the letter reads.
City health officials check the space once every two weeks, but that’s not enough, the letter said. “Used and bloody hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia, rotting food, trash, broken glass, public nudity, prostitution, sales of illegal drugs, and human urine and feces are encountered by those whose routes take them by the encampments.”
NoMa encampment resident Mike Harriss said he and his neighbors work hard to keep the area clean.
"This is all my neighborhood,” Harriss said. “When I go this way, I pick up trash."
Harriss also addressed concerns about tent placement and leaving space for pedestrians.
"We use that line right there as our gauge mark,” he said, pointing to a seam in the sidewalk. “And whenever I see one of my neighbors a little bit too far over, I ask, ‘Is anybody home?’ If nobody's home, I grab the tent and pull it back."
The community has a set of rules and codes, like any other. Encampment resident Antar Adams said if someone is drunk or rowdy, "four or five guys will come down and tell him, ‘Look, we try to be orderly and neat around here, why are you causing a problem?’"
Other underpass residents said they don’t want to cause problems and that despite the informal rules of the tent community, they need help from the city.
"There's also a big problem with a lot of people with some of their mental health, that's running around out here, they don't have their medication," resident Aeshia Allen said.
The citizen letter said NoMa applauds city officials for their many affordable housing initiatives, but affordable housing alone won’t solve the problem.
“We know that the primary challenges [of homelessness] are the result of mental health and substance-abuse disorders,” the letter reads.
NoMa's president said the letter wasn't meant to antagonize, but to start a dialogue with their neighbors so NoMa residents of all circumstances can coexist.
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