Your Views: Tom of North Washington Street

Your Views: Tom of North Washington Street
(File photo)

To the editor:

Those of you who have spent time on North Washington Street over the past several years have seen Tom. Homeless, Tom has camped out at various places along the street.

Before the Sunrise Living construction started, he lived on the corner. Then he moved across the street. Through this past winter, he’s been encamped in the bus stop shelter at the corner of Pendleton Street. Now, WMATA has moved him out of the shelter and he’s set up at the corner of Pendleton and North St. Asaph streets.

Many people, including residents, the city and the fire and police departments, have tried to help Tom. Living outdoors, Tom is a danger to himself. He’s not getting adequate rest, warmth, food or water, but maybe some health checks.

Tom clearly has psychological problems and appears to have almost unlimited access to alcohol. Left to his own devices, Tom will likely die on North Washington Street.

Every city has homeless people. It is a sad and unnecessary problem in the richest nation on earth. There are shelters and other programs that can provide folks like Tom the help they need when they can’t or won’t help themselves.

Why isn’t Tom in a shelter?

The city has repeatedly tried to help Tom, to get him into a safe environment. And each time, Tom is back on North Washington in 24 to 48 hours.

Why can’t the city get Tom the help he needs, get him into in a safe living situation? Each time we ask, the city tells us Tom is claustrophobic, likes to be outside and they can’t force him to stay in a shelter.

Repeatedly putting Tom back on the street is not an answer. We need a more creative solution to address the risks that Tom’s homelessness pose. Most problems like this tend to get worse, not better, if they aren’t resolved.

Here’s an idea: Give Tom a tent and a good sleeping bag. Put the tent on the grounds of one of the city’s shelters, so he’s close to help, food, shower, laundry and medical care.

Tom can be outside in his tent as much as he wants. The Lee Center on Jefferson Street has all the facilities and a fire department station to boot. Simple and effective. Put up several tents for homeless folks. Maybe there’s a community effect. For certain, the ability to monitor and administer to their needs would be improved tremendously.

If Tom does pass away on North Washington Street, when the city is asked, “How was this allowed to happen?” what will they say? “We tried.” “He was claustrophobic you know.”

Results count, city. Tom’s been at risk for more than three years. Hanging on and hoping that the Toms of the world just disappear or get better at some point when the weather gets warm is not a resolution. It’s putting off confronting a life-threatening situation. And situations like Tom’s resolve themselves, one way of the other.

One of the city’s responsibilities is to protect the citizenry. That includes keeping all of us safe, even when we can’t or won’t take care of ourselves. Among the metrics for cities like Alexandria is how they protect the most vulnerable of us, and fix problems that have real consequences for real people.

-John Skibinski, Alexandria