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Posts Tagged ‘gentrification’

Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Last year I gave my $10 to several people who were victims the gentrification that is taking place in DC.  Ca’ Vonn E. stands out the most.  I met her in the Shaw neighborhood at the controversial plot of land referred to as Parcel 42; land that the local residents say former Mayor Adrian Fenty agreed to make into affordable housing.   When that didn’t happen they took matters into their own hands and created a tent city on the land as a form of protest.  From bringing food and water to securing the URL for their website, I spent several weeks helping the residents of tent city.

Last Monday I got another opportunity to help ensure affordable housing options exist for lower-income families here in our nation’s capital.  Yachad (pronounced yah-hod) is a DC organization whose mission it is to repair and rebuild lower-income neighborhoods by engaging construction and real estate professionals and hundreds of volunteers to repair housing, renovate storefronts, and create safer community spaces.  

Yachad, whose name comes from the Hebrew word for together, has an initiative called We the People where they mobilize volunteers on federal holidays for service projects.  I decided to spend my Memorial Day with them.

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Me handling some power tools...Look out!

I walked from the Fort Totten Metro Station over to the properties that we were going to be working on.  With the temperature clearly on its way to 90+ degrees, drops of sweat had already covered my forehead before I had even lifted a hammer.    

Kendra Rubinfeld was surrounded by a group of eager volunteers when I arrived.  She explained that the occupancy ratio of this apartment complex was falling and as a result has put the property in jeopardy of being lost to developers who would turn it into expensive townhouses.  “Our goal is to refurbish these units as quickly as possible so that they can be rented and start generating money so that doesn’t happen,” she explained to me.

I got to work on an upstairs unit that had been gutted and needed to be sanded and painted.  One of my least favorite tasks is working on ceilings – there’s just no good way it seems to do it without getting your back or neck messed up.  Luckily for me I got pulled onto another project as they needed some people to help install some locks on the doors.  I had just replaced the lock on my father’s front door a few weeks earlier and was emboldened to believe that I was an expert. 

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A volunteer works on bringing the hardwood floor back to life.

I encourage you to check out the photographs I took.  Some of the units were in very poor condition, but we made great progress and soon these will be filled with happy tenants. 

There are several ways that you can help Yachad.  For those of you in the DC area you can volunteer like I did on a federal holiday.  If you don’t live in the area but still want to help them in their mission, I encourage you to make a donation to help pay for contractors and supplies needed to refurbish more houses.  I’ve seen a lot of nonprofits and can tell you this is one worthy of your donation.

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Eric fights to protect the right to affordable housing in the District (photo: Reed)

Recently I met Ca’Vonn, a struggling mother of six in DC’s Shaw neighborhood who is part of the Tent City DC community at the corner of 7th and R Streets in Northwest.  On one of my other visits to the controversial Parcel 42 I met Eric Sheptock.  Eric is a homeless advocate who’s life story is as amazing as it is horrific. 

He tells me a chilling story about a couple who decided they no longer wanted there eight-month-old baby boy and attempted to murder the child by beating the innocent infant until they cracked his head open and left him to die in a New Jersey motel.  Thankfully someone found the bludgeoned baby and rushed him to the hospital.  Unfortunately this isn’t an except from a story by Stephen King or Richard Laymon, it’s Eric’s real life story 

This stomach churning saga has a happy ending though.  Eric survived the ordeal and five years of foster care until he was later adopted by a family in New Jersey: the Sheptocks.  If the name sounds familiar, you might have heard about them before.  They had seven children of their own and adopted 30 others.  That’s quite a family.  They have been in the media several times and there was even a book written about them! 

Eric and his family moved around in New Jersey and finally settled in Florida.  As a young adult he got a job there at a hospital and worked there for a couple of years until he left over a disagreement.  He took his final check and decided to go to New Jersey.  In 1994 his money ran out and Eric became homeless; a situation that he has maintained on and off since that time.  That was not the only tragedy of 1994.  On August 11th of the same year his petite 33-year-old girlfriend, a six-pack a day drinker, died of cirrhosis of the liver.  

In 2005 Eric was back in Florida living in a tent in the woods.  He was fed up with the war that we were waging in Iraq and decided to move to Washington, DC and become an activist.  He set out on July 6th which was President Bush’s birthday coincidentally. 

Eric at Parcel 42 aka Tent City DC at 7th and R in NW (photo: Reed)

He walked and hitchhiked most of the way.  He told me several amazing stories about his journey.  One that I will share with you is that as Eric was walking through Virginia he came into the town of Farmville late one evening.  There were no street lamps there due to some city ordinances or something but he did finally see a light off in the distance.  When he got closer he realized that the light was coming from the porch of a church.  Despite the porch crawling with large spiders, he made it his resting place for the night.  He awoke the next morning, Sunday, to find the spiders replaced by churchgoers.  They invited him in to service, fed him and gave him $84 from a collection they passed around for him.  He went on his way and was offered a ride by a passerby who ended up driving him almost 50 miles out of his way to a bus stop in Charlottesville, VA.  When Eric tried to offer him some money for the gas, the driver refused and actually gave him $20! 

Soon after arriving in DC he started advocating to keep the Franklin Shelter open.  He met with former Mayor Williams, current Mayor Fenty and others and shook their hand as they promised that they would all support keeping the facility open.  Sadly, once in office, Eric says that Fenty closed the shelter. 

Eric continues to advocate for homeless members of our community as well as those who have housing but struggle to keep up with rising rental rates.  He has over 4,000 friends on facebook and 700 followers on twitter.  This is impressive given that he says he didn’t know how to use a computer until four years ago.  

With his feet-on-the-ground approach coupled with his efforts in social media, Eric has become the voice for so many who have been muted due to their social and economic situation.  He hopes to some day find gainful employment that allows him to secure affordable housing for low-income and homeless individuals.  Although he has been successful in doing this for a handful of people, he wants to scale his efforts to a more seismic level.  

Eric says he will put $5 on his Metro card and use the remaining $5 for food. 

I had the opportunity to record some of his passion for affordable housing for DC residents.  The following video is a little long (when I tried to use my free editor, it lowered the quality so bad that I felt it was better to leave in its original uncut format), but very informative.  Take a minute to listen to Eric and learn about the current struggles related to affordable housing in our nation’s capital.

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