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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Column: Residents, businesses should embrace — not fear — plans for The Aston

A May 2023 report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found 8,499 people reported experiencing homelessness in the D.C. area in 2023 — that’s enough people to fill more than eight Thurston Halls.

While city officials are attempting to convert The Aston, a former GW residence hall, into a shelter for medically vulnerable unhoused people, neighbors in the District are valuing property more than people. Now, the West End D.C. Community Association — an unincorporated group of unnamed local property owners — is even suing D.C. in a bid to stop the sale.

Providing secure shelter with rehabilitation resources creates more stability for everyone. If the University can house thousands of students just blocks away from The Aston, then it shouldn’t be so hard to provide shelter for unhoused people in the District.

The lawsuit filed by WEDCCA alleges that city officials did not provide enough information about ensuring access for emergency and medical vehicles or delivery trucks, as well as about the construction of dining and kitchen spaces that were proposed for The Aston. While these minute details are important in theory, spending money and time on stopping the entire initiative indicates their larger agenda: to keep unhoused people away.

Can WEDCCA even claim to be part of the community? You just have to take them at their word. This anonymous citizen’s association simply has the money and resources — the group has retained the prestigious law firm ArentFox Schiff — to take legal action against an extremely vulnerable group.

And exclusion is not new to unhoused people in D.C. The National Park Service shut down an encampment of more than 50 unhoused people in McPherson Square in February.

Nayan Patel, the president and CEO of District Hospitality, which controls the West End Hotel adjacent to The Aston, said in a meeting June 21 that he is concerned about residents with mental illnesses deterring customers from the hotels and restaurants in the area.

Opposing a shelter based on optics and the location’s reputation treats unhoused people as undeserving of space within their own community, and drawing a correlation between unhoused individuals and a lack of safety only perpetuates the struggle of finding permanent housing.

The best way to address homelessness is not by excommunicating the unhoused but by creating space for them and providing resources for future success — and that’s exactly what repurposing The Aston would do.

The Aston is taking necessary steps to go beyond just providing a roof over people’s heads. As planned, a number of mental health staff will support residents in The Aston, and the shelter will prohibit the use of alcohol and illicit drugs.

Instead of working toward this future or seeking input from those it would benefit, West End is too busy fighting itself. D.C. officials and D.C. Councilmember Brooke Pinto reached an agreement July 26 which would require the creation of a community advisory team who would counsel The Aston’s staff. But the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission adjourned the meeting after disruptions from the audience and arguments between commissioners.

Rather than arguing over who to put on the community advisory team, affluent neighbors and city officials should listen to unhoused individuals, the people most directly affected by these decisions.

Having secure shelter for those who struggle with mental illness is intended to help with stability — not the opposite. And all people deserve housing, regardless of mental state. Instead of asking unhoused people to experience their struggles out of sight and out of mind, we must ask our unhoused neighbors how we can support them and exist as a community together.

Converting The Aston is the right action to address the need for more accessible shelters in D.C. Anyone made uncomfortable by such help is simply failing to recognize their privilege. Rather than fearing what the loss of that privilege looks like, affluent residents should seek out how to use their advantages to help others.

Riley Goodfellow, a junior majoring in political science, is the contributing opinions editor.

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