My recent suggestion that we allow "street people" to spend the night in subway stations has met with a thundering chorus of disagreement.
"I doubt if your idea would work," writes Carol Cassell of College Park. "And even if it did, it would still require a guard and cleanup people." If you think Carol is eager to pay their salaries, think again.
Merrie Israel of Arlington points out that "street people" in New York use subway stations for shelter every night of the year--usually with filthy, smelly results. "If you've ever been to the Times Square station," says Merrie, "you would reevaluate your suggestion."
"The only way to handle this is to pick 'em up, put 'em in jail, then pick 'em up and put 'em in jail all over again," said Donald Beebe. "I know it sounds cold-blooded, but just hassle 'em until they get the picture that we won't stand for this."
"Bob, I can't believe your naivete," writes Dianna Sakacs of Lanham. "Do you really not understand that the street people are not quite normal? If they followed rules, Bob, there wouldn't be a problem in the first place."
"The main problem with these street people is that they don't want to be helped," writes Dorothy S. Withers of Chevy Chase. "One of my friends gave an umbrella to one of them during a rainstorm, and he actually threw it back at her!"
Many of Washington's most antisocial "street people" congregate near the State Department (locals call the regulars the "Dirty Dozen"). The contrast between ragged men sleeping in parks on slabs of cardboard and well-dressed diplomats driving past them to work drew considerable comment.
"The (subway station) proposal . . . might meet the visual needs more of Foggy Bottom workers than the homeless," writes Tim Siegel, coordinator of Coalition for the Homeless, a local group that tries to help "street people."
"Have State Department people ever once brought these poor, unfortunate men juice, hot coffee, a roll?" asks Mary Unger of Southwest. "Did they ever sit down and discuss where these men could find a place to stay? The answer is no! The complainers go home to their expensive homes, use their spotless bathrooms, shower, sit down to a delicious meal and then watch TV."
One federal official pointed the finger at the city government.
The "Dirty Dozen" who camp along Virginia Avenue and E Street are "a disgrace to the United States," writes Jay F. Morris, deputy administrator of the Agency for International Development, whose offices are at State. "If the D.C. City Council wanted to, they could certainly legislate prohibitions for certain areas of the city that are official in nature."
Any other approaches to this extremely tough problem? Only this idea from Mary Healy of Northwest:
Establish "hobo parks" on vacant city-owned land for the exclusive overnight use of "street people." The parks would not only provide several Dirty Dozens with food and shelter, but they'd get these often-abusive, usually-unsightly men out of everyone else's way.
The big flaw in this idea, as Mary herself points out, is that if "street people" won't use the shelters that are available to them now--and they often won't--why would they use a "hobo park?"