The District is often criticized for being too far removed from the rest of the United States and dismally out of touch with its most pressing problems. But the nation’s problem with homelessness is writ large here in the capital.
The Post reported in May 2015 that 11,623 people in the area were homeless during that year’s winter. According to a study released in May 2016, the number of homeless people in the D.C. area grew 14 percent in one year. If you walk through the District, you are essentially guaranteed to bear witness to homelessness.
Our political leaders do not live in Duloc, the pristine, fictional city in the movie “Shrek.” Our political leaders cannot be oblivious to a problem in front of their eyes.
While walking past a certain hipster salad joint in Dupont Circle that charges $12 for a bowl of romaine and quinoa, I saw a homeless man sitting outside the restaurant with a cup out for change.
Now, the problem here is not the dozens of relatively affluent people who frequent the local business. Rather, the injustice is that we can see the salad joint as evidence of the capital’s strong economy, yet so little economic resources are used to give essentials to the city’s most vulnerable.
I bought the man a salad, because how could you not? But the problem can’t be solved with one bowl of salad and some goodwill.
When U.S. leaders consider shaping foreign policy, the idea is often discussed that the country should lead by setting an example with its economic and human rights record. The nation’s political leaders should likewise set an example for the rest of the major U.S. cities by taking it upon themselves to tackle the capital’s homelessness head-on.
In the District, Congress has a peculiar, and often-resented, degree of authority over local affairs. In the simplest terms, with great power comes great responsibility to the residents of the city that the federal government inhabits.
Let’s not ignore the efforts made by nonprofit agencies to help the most vulnerable in our capital and nation at large. At the same time, let’s call upon our representatives in Congress, the most powerful entity that calls the District home, to help their neighbors. Let’s look our neighbors in the eye and commit to helping them, to helping our homeless and hungry citizens.
If we want our nation’s capital to represent our most dearly held American values, then we must help everyone, and especially the most vulnerable residents, have a place to call home.