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  • Writer's pictureMfon Edet

Silent Welfare War: Homelessness in the Nation’s Capital

Updated: Jan 26

Image Source: Talk Poverty

As people began the 2023 holiday season with anticipation for Thanksgiving meals, holiday gifts, spending time with loved ones and overall experiencing the feeling of abundance, The Neighborhood began the holiday season on the other side of reality. The side of reality in which poverty and abuse debilitated the lives of individuals so much so that it left them

homeless and alone. 

Last month, I visited House of Ruth, a Washington, DC based nonprofit that provides housing and additional support to women and families that are experiencing abuse and homelessness. The purpose of my visit was to begin a partnership with House of Ruth regarding a volunteer program that provides a stipend to homeless individuals to beautify underserved neighborhoods in the Washington, DC area. This beautification is done by removing street pollution (i.e. litter) from these neighborhoods. The flagship program is called the Street Poet Initiative (S.P.I) and it is housed under our environmental justice programmatic area known as Garden Abode. 

During my visit, I had a chance to sit in a room with women who have all had different paths in life and yet were all in the same situation of being without a home. From younger individuals to elderly women, they all had unique stories and yet one of the common concerns that they all seemed to express was the lack of dignity they experience because of homelessness. From being mistreated at previous shelters to being ridiculed by pedestrians while on the streets of Washington, DC, these women live in a state of unknown which makes them vulnerable to different types of situations in which people can take advantage of them. 

After meeting with these women, first in a group setting and then individually, I left House of Ruth with a few things. Firstly, I left with gratitude that House of Ruth exists and was open to partnering with us as we venture into an initiative that places homeless individuals as a catalyst for positive community change. Being a woman is hard enough when you’re not homeless. So to be experiencing homelessness as a woman is simply scary. From not knowing when you will have access to a sanitary napkin to being sexually harassed by individuals to just being seen as less than a human by society, homelessness as a woman but also as simply a person is devastating. Secondly, I left House of Ruth with a better understanding of both inward and outward beauty. The women that I spoke to were beautiful simply because of their wisdom and resiliency. And lastly, I left House of Ruth with a greater awareness of how there is a silent war going on within Washington, DC (and the U.S. in general) regarding poverty. This war can be referred to as the Silent Welfare War. 

Conversations around homelessness seem to highlight three main perspectives. The first perspective focuses on the dangers of tent cities and the cost associated with removing these communities (PBS NewsHour). The second perspective focuses on the aesthetics around homelessness (New York Post). And the final perspective is around how extreme weather conditions are harming (and even killing) homeless individuals; in 2022, the Washington Post reported that at least 77 homeless individuals have died with at least one of those causes being hypothermia. All perspectives agree that combating homelessness is necessary, however their approach to a solution makes the war an on-going fight. Additionally, what makes this war even more frightening is the way individuals who are homeless or even living in underserved neighborhoods are ignored and abused because of their poverty. It’s as if we want to punish these people for being poor even though social conditions such as qualifying for housing, finding a healthy work environment that pays well, and having access to quality food and healthcare can all be challenging. In essence, poverty is debilitating and what is occurring in the Washington, DC area is an increase in refugees from a welfare-centric civil war that is caused by problematic local policies and economic greed. If better strategic collaborations and policies were being utilized to address homelessness then the city would receive a bigger social and financial return from investing in the right tools and services to address this issue.

Image Source: The Neighborhood

Overall, my visit to the House of Ruth began as an opportunity to discuss S.P.I. with potential program members and ended with me being taught by these intelligent women about life and a social sickness that’s harming our communities: homelessness. 

As The Neighborhood continues to build a relationship with the House of Ruth and the individuals they serve, we look forward to learning and working with these women to change their lives and our underserved neighborhoods.    

To learn more about House of Ruth and how you can give and volunteer, click here. To make a donation to support the work of S.P.I., click here.



Check out the “I Am Human” photography series from our former Board Member and current Advisory Committee Member, Anthony Gary. The series highlights homelessness in Atlanta, Georgia.

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