Washington DC Hides the Homeless on Inauguration Day

ThinkProgress has a disturbing report that the city of Washington, DC made sure that the city’s growing homeless population was out of sight during the two days of the presidential inauguration, when hundreds of thousands of people will be in town and the TV cameras would be on:

This weekend, as many as 800,000 people will show up in downtown Washington D.C. to watch President Obama’s second inauguration. What they won’t see, however, is D.C.’s homeless population.

That’s because on Thursday, the city issued a special order requiring homeless shelters, which normally close during the day, to remain open on Sunday and Monday. As a result, many of the city’s homeless people will be indoors on inauguration weekend, out of public sight.

In and of itself, giving homeless people a refuge during the day is laudable. Doing so solely on the two days when world’s eyes will be on D.C. raises questions about whether the city is simply trying to hide its homeless residents…

It’s hard to criticize the District for devoting more resources to helping homeless people get shelter this weekend. But the question is are they willing to be as generous when the cameras are off and the city isn’t the center of attention? Last year’s city budget, which cut homeless services by $7 million even as the District enjoyed a $140 million surplus, might be an indication.

It certainly is.

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  • Suido

    I hate it when cities do this sort of thing, whether it’s for the olympics, a UN conference, whatever. Fucking quick fix, treat the symptoms not the cause mentality.

  • freemage

    My hometown of Chicago has been doing this sort of thing for decades–in the week before a major event, the cops move through and sweep out all the panhandlers. They also go on hunt-and-destroy missions for the ‘stashes’ that most street-homeless keep their few personal possessions in.

  • eric

    Well, DC temperatures now are significantly lower than they were on Monday. So we can do a quick rule-of-thumb check: are they open today?

    If so, laud the city for responding to a cold snap with humanitarian aid. If not…boo, hiss.

  • erichoug

    I worked as a bike messenger for nearly 10 years. When you are on the street in downtown that much you get a serious familiarity with the homeless.

    After about 2 years the only ones I wouldn’t have run over with a dump truck were the ones with physical or mental defects.

    I know that it may sound surprising but many of the homeless have a deep sense of entitlement. Like to ones you give a boxed lunch too and later find the box and the remaining contents thrown all over the street. Seriously, not even inside the box, like the asshole opened the box and just flung the chicken bones, the corn cob and the napkins and fork and what not all over the street. And he was leaning up against a fucking trashcan eating it last time I saw him. GAH! it still pisses me off. sorry.

    I am all in favor of increasing out mental health care funding and getting the physically and mentally damaged off the street. For the rest of them, I suggest we invest in dump trucks with snowplows on the front

  • davidworthington

    The Super Bowl is in New Orleans this year and I’m living in NOLA for a few months. The city has already moved the homeless from their typical safety from the elements (under the I-10/90 overpasses) to places unknown (to me). As a society we don’t want the homeless to intrude into our lines of site; people go to extremes to avoid seeing and interacting with the homeless. I don’t know if the same kind of evacuation is happening around/on Frenchman Street, but I’ll be down there for a show tomorrow night and should get a sense.

  • @erichoug:

    Some members of the homeless population are okay – there are two gentlemen around where I work who don’t act entitled.

    Of course then there’s the one to whom I couldn’t have given any money (I don’t ever carry cash unless someone gives it to me as a payment for something) and I gave him a sorrowful “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything.” After that, he decided to yell at me to go ‘suck a cock.’

  • erichoug

    @ Katherine.

    One of my personal favorites was the one who asked me for some change on payday. I am literally, and I do mean literally, broke. I have about $2 in my bank account and dust in my wallet. I have exactly $0.12 in change in my pocket. When schmucko asks for change I say.

    “buddy, it’s payday and I am completely broke. All I have is this change in my pocket but you are welcome to it.”

    After he sees my dime and two nickles, he throws them on the ground and proceeds to yell at me similar to your friend above. Being a bike messenger at the time which is to say someone with whom one should not fuck. He didn’t appreciate my response.

  • eamick

    Grigory Potemkin, please pick up the white courtesy phone…….

  • I’ve gotta admit, interacting with the homeless is awkward sometimes. I never really know the protocol, and they do have an irritating tendency to not actually be any nicer than anybody else, and, indeed, to often have various personal/social flaws that are the very reason they ended up in that particular state, or that have been induced/exacerbated by living on the streets. It’s frustrating to be a sappy, liberal-minded “I just wanna help everybody” type and to be confronted with the reality that many times the reason these people are where they are is because they need a *lot* of help to become fully integrated members of society, way beyond just the few bucks for lunch that they ask for, and that they may not actually want or know how to make good use of any more meaningful help from you, right there, right now, even assuming that you’re able to give it.

    Seems to me this is why we really need to give more resources to social assistance programs, so that there are plenty of actual dedicated experts available to provide the help these people really need, as opposed to our current system, which leaves us mostly working as isolated individuals fumbling around frustratedly in the dark and winding up hating the very people we set out to help.

  • Brad

    The capitol is a public building, right? The homeless should all just hang out there until congress does something about it. “Adopt a Republican” would be amazingly entertaining.

  • bobafuct

    Even as a liberal DC dweller, I have a hard time getting riled up about this. While I’m sure DC wants to keep up appearances, I’d bet money the Secret Service probably requested (read: ordered) DC authorities to rein in the homeless, primarily for security/logistics reasons…they probably didn’t want homeless folks sleeping or loitering inside the security perimeter, or walking around with shopping carts loaded with their belongings. I know it’s not terribly compassionate, but the Secret Service are kinda assholes and go out of their way to inconvenience pretty much everyone in DC indiscriminately.

    As an aside, DC’s homeless are pretty decent people in my experience…they tend to be older guys who fell on genuinely hard times and who struggle to get their lives back together because of their age and lack of family to care for them. There are a few that will do the typical “help me buy some food” or whatever, which I don’t mind, but unlike places like San Francisco where they seem to be pretty surly and “entitled”, the homeless in DC generally are quiet and friendly. When my wife and I first started dating, she lived across the street from a large shelter and the guys outside were always super nice and considerate, and probably kept some of the crime away.

  • DaveL

    I am all in favor of increasing out mental health care funding and getting the physically and mentally damaged off the street. For the rest of them, I suggest we invest in dump trucks with snowplows on the front

    I think you may be making a false distinction between the “mentally damaged” on one hand and entitled, antisocial assholes on the other.

  • erichoug


    I think you may be making a false distinction between the “mentally damaged” on one hand and entitled, antisocial assholes on the other

    No, not really. I think I am probably generalizing and there were quite a few homeless people that I actually got to know and like when I worked downtown. There are a lot of them that are basically useless fuckwits that burned through every second chance everyone ever gave them and ended up being on the streets due to their own intransigence and sense of entitlement. See my post above about the $0.12 guy for an example.

    I am making a distinction between the ones that would shit their pants and then shake the legs until balls of poop roll out onto the sidewalk and the ones that feel that their life is one continuous party.

    I am making a difference between the completely covered in dirt and soot ones that wander around ripping newsprint into a shredded mass while wearing nothing but torn up pants and a hat when it’s 34 degrees out and the ones that get mad at you when they ask you to buy them a beer and you say no.

    You don’t have to believe me if you like but I have had 9 years of experience in dealing with these guys on a daily basis and I know the difference between a homeless person and a bum.

  • cry4turtles

    If I had to be homeless, I’d go to the Keys. Who the hell wants to be homeless where you will freeze your balls off 6 months out if the year?! I think that’ll be my retirement -homeless in Key Largo. I promise to be one of the nice ones.

  • Suido


    I have lived in Brisbane, which I have heard (citation needed*) has the highest rate of homelessness out of Australian state capitals. It seems sensible that the more benign, subtropical climate means there is less motivation for the homeless to improve their situation than there is in a city where it gets really cold. Of course, there are myriad societal reasons for why they’re homeless in the first place, but I think that the climate some bearing on whether people remain homeless.


    As to whether homeless people are arseholes or not, I tend to lean to the more compassionate side. I don’t think it’s fair to expect gratitude and polite behaviour from people who are on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder, often due to circumstances beyond their control. Yes, there are exceptions, but I don’t think making generalisations that stigmatise homeless people as a group is a responsible or ethical thing to do from a position of privilege, ie without having been homeless yourself.

    *Somewhat backed up by this, since Qld has the highest homeless rates out the states, with the two territories recording higher rates..

  • Trickster Goddess

    I also had the experience once where I only had a few coins left in my pocket, but offered them anyway to a panhandler who asked. Not only did he refuse them, he also insisted on giving me some of his money!

    I pass many homeless people every day, but rarely can afford to give anything, so when they ask for money I just politely say “Sorry, not today.” I also make eye contact and smile at them, treating them as fellow normal humans and not trying to ignore them or try to pretend I’m somehow superior to them. Most of the regulars don’t even ask me any more, but when they see me coming they smile and say hello.

  • davidworthington

    I almost always give to the homeless who have dogs. My choice.

    Gave a guy 25 bucks yesterday, we were heading to lunch and he had a great story, saving people during Katrina (he even had an LA Times story that documented his claims). The homeless are people, some of them are nice and friendly, some are jerks, but honestly, I meet a lot more jerks who have jobs and feel entitled than I do homeless. But I was homeless for a while, lucky I still had a vehicle I could live in and some friends to point me towards jobs, but there is a thin line. I think the sociologists point to a huge percentage of Americans are within 2 or 3 paychecks of homelessness. Hope it never happens to folks on the board, but it can.

  • Dennis N

    As I read recently, there are those people who think the poor require sticks while the rich require carrots for motivation, and there are those of us who think the opposite. Which person you are can be very revealing.