January sure feels like it packed in at least half a year's worth of events and news in the first 30 days, doesn't it? I sent out an update on vaccines earlier this week to provide some timely information as the sign-up process works to improve and evolve. But I know it remains a frustration for many and I'll continue to push for the needed improvements and I'll link to that update below. We also have a tremendous amount happening all over the District, and I want to keep you informed with a longer newsletter that touches on many important topics.
We knew this winter would be a challenging time, even if we couldn't have anticipated all of the ways it would be so hard. Parents are deciding how to handle difficult choices on education. We're seeing a troubling increase in crime. The pandemic drags on and the supply of vaccines is far behind where we need it to be. Not to mention ongoing threats to our democracy from inside US borders. Still, hope remains in the progress we're making. I see neighbors every day taking extra steps to care for one another. I see communities rallying together to protect our values and our city. And I see us working together to meet common challenges and emerge stronger for it. So let's jump in and keep working toward solutions together.
Quick Links: Snow! | In-Person Learning Returns | COVID-19 Update | Gun Violence Prevention | US Capitol Fence | Essential Workers Home Purchase Fund | Washington Channel | Restaurant Week 2021 | Bridgepoint Hospital | Free Tax Prep Help | Nonprofit Funding | Statehood Yard Signs
Snow Is On The Way!
It's been two years since our last notable snowfall in the District, so a quick reminder of some resources and good, neighborly steps to take.
- Once the snow has stopped falling, try to shovel your walk within eight hours. For all of us, but especially neighbors who have a harder time getting around, hardened, packed snow presents a pretty serious risk. If you are healthy and able, help any neighbors with shoveling their sidewalk who might have some physical limitations. Forecasts are showing snow stopping late afternoon on Sunday - a great time to clear those sidewalks before a freeze overnight makes it harder to clear in the morning.
- DC will have its hypothermia alert activated and shelters open 24/7. If you see someone struggling on the street, call the shelter hotline at 202-399-7093.
- You can follow updates at https://snow.dc.gov/
- Normally you could go sledding on the hill next to the US Capitol, but obviously there's a big fence in the way. By the way, in case you hadn't heard, I'm strongly against that fence staying up and working on fixing it.
Returning to School In-Person
This coming Monday, both DCPS and some charter schools will return to some form of in-person learning. For parents like me, fortunate enough to live within walking distance of my kids' school and able to work from home, it offers a tough choice. But for families whose students don't go to school near home or have family members with significant health risks, in-person learning might not even be feasible. Frankly, there aren't enough good options for parents or students. At recent hearings with DCPS, I've pushed to improve safety measures for teachers, staff, and students, asked how DCPS is meeting students where they are to address their unique needs, asked how schools are preparing now for summer and beyond to address significant learning loss, and much more. I pulled together a video to give DCPS parents some insight into what oversight efforts I'm focused on moving forward. For charter school parents, I'm working with specific Ward 6 schools (since each school makes its own decisions). Please feel free to connect with me with any concerns you are encountering. I recorded a quick video as we get ready for this next change.
I want to quickly run through some important points we need to keep in mind until we've got widespread vaccination. These cannot be considered suggestions just for other people - we all have to do these things to make it work and get this virus under control.
New Strains of the Virus
If you follow the news, I'm sure you've heard reports of new strains of the COVID-19 virus. This is concerning, but you should also know this is part of every viral strain. Viruses are living organisms who evolve. Given how widespread the virus is worldwide, each host moves a virus through its evolutionary steps. New strains are/were inevitable. Some of them will be stronger and more dangerous, others won't be. This Vox article helpfully walks through how new strains develop in a measured tone.
The most important thing we can do is stop the spread to new hosts. As Dr. Fauci said, it can't mutate if it doesn't incubate. We are in a race against time to get the vaccine in place before the virus evolves too much. That means:
- Physical distancing outside and inside.
- It means wearing masks.
- It means washing hands.
- It means staying home as much as you can. And if you do have to go into someone else's home or indoor space, wear your mask.
Double Up the Mask!
The experts are all in agreement: it's time to start wearing two masks to stop the spread of more contagious strains of COVID-19. I've found the cloth masks fit comfortably over a surgical or similar paper mask with little difference in fit. Here's more from the Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/01/27/double-mask-variants-guidance/
Vaccine Distribution Update
Earlier this week, I shared an update on the District's rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. Right now, the biggest challenge is that there simply isn't enough vaccine to go around. It's going to improve in the coming weeks and months, but it will be difficult for a while. The good news is that DC residents are getting vaccinated alongside our health care workers, first responders, teachers, and other folks whose work is critical to keeping our city running.
Importantly, it was just announced last night that beginning on Monday, February 1, at noon, licensed childcare workers who are working in-person are eligible to receive vaccination from One Medical. Look for more information from our office Twitter account on Monday. This was one of three urgent requests the Council has made to the Mayor to improve the weekly distribution process, along with the creation of a wait list (in process) and prioritizing ZIP codes where residents have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 for vaccination (complete, including 20001 and 20001 in Ward 6, and adding 20024 in Southwest after I made the request).
If you missed the update, you can find it here for reference: http://www.charlesallenward6.com/1_27_21_ward_6_vaccine_update
New Gun Violence Prevention Director / Public Safety Update
I share the concerns of many Ward 6 residents who have emailed, called, and reached out about a continued rise in crime. I am regularly in contact with our MPD District Commanders and Acting Chief Contee in the aftermath of serious crimes in our neighborhood to get updates. As Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, I spend a lot of my time working on these issues and am in regular meetings with criminal justice partners on where we need to go next.
Over the last couple of years, violent crime and property crime overall have decreased in the city. There are two categories that are notable exceptions, though. First is gun violence and the second is vehicle thefts (sometimes car-jacking, sometimes theft without the owner involved). Both are very concerning and mirror trends we are seeing in nearly every US city right now. And while these crimes obviously pre-date the pandemic, we cannot ignore the immense challenges created by the pandemic, which has meant closed schools, even higher unemployment and lost income, disparate health outcomes, closed public spaces like libraries and rec centers, and more. That means that for a lot of people who are living in already difficult situations, many of the normal supports we offer are missing or much harder to provide.
First-Ever Gun Violence Prevention Director Begins
Just yesterday, I was pleased to see the Mayor announce the District's first Gun Violence Prevention Director, Linda Harllee Harper. Last summer, I created the position of Gun Violence Prevention Director as part of the most recent budget the District passed and I have high hopes for what Director Harper can do with this new position. The goal in creating the position, which was a major priority of Moms Demand Action DC and other gun violence prevention advocacy groups, was to empower an expert within the City Administrator's office to use the full strength and resources of the District government to focus on reducing gun violence. Director Harper's role is an important part of finally treating gun violence like the public health emergency that it really is.
If we only treat gun violence as a policing problem, we'll never make real, sustainable progress because the underlying conditions that lead someone to gun violence are not just a police problem. Linda is someone I've worked with for many years in her previous roles helping transform the District's approach to rehabilitating juveniles who commit crimes and envisioning the future of the DC Jail. She brings a great vision and wealth of experience to the position. You can be sure I will be closely following her work and ensuring she's receiving the support she needs to succeed.
Legislative Tools to Prevent Crime and Get Guns off the Street
On the enforcement side, I’ve moved legislation through the Council that increases criminal penalties for extended magazines and so-called “ghost” guns – both of which we’ve seen with increasing frequency in our city and do great harm. But I want to emphasize the data shows us over and over again that there are limits to the effectiveness of enhanced penalties on deterring crime. Many of the crimes we've seen recently, including armed car theft, already come with incredibly steep penalties. If having harsh penalties were the secret to ending crime, DC would have very little crime. This isn't to say that there isn't a role for accountability, but we cannot overly rely on it as our only solution. And we certainly cannot overlook the historic role these two tactics have had in over-policing and mass incarceration of Black residents.
There are a number of other steps I’ve taken to give the Mayor’s team more tools to get guns off our streets, including creating the District's red flag law and engaging in ongoing oversight to see that it is implemented correctly. And in the last few years, I’ve also worked to support community-based solutions using violence prevention models targeted to neighborhoods experiencing the most violence. Investments like these that focus on individuals at-risk of committing or becoming victims of gun violence are paying off, intervening before the trigger is pulled. It's worth noting here that some of the men released under re-sentencing efforts I've led on have dedicated themselves to reaching young people today who need a role model to learn from -- they are using their experience to reach out in a way few others can.
Other related efforts I’ve helped create use a hospital-based intervention so that once gun violence has taken place, people are in place to de-escalate and intervene to break cycles of violence and retribution, a major cause of gun violence in our city.
Importantly, violent crime doesn’t come out of nowhere; so we need to take an urgent and comprehensive approach to rooting it out. I’ve also been working with the Mayor and incoming Chief on some additional strategies to focus efforts and interventions more strongly on the people most at-risk for violence to help the city be less reactive and instead get in front of it proactively by addressing people’s challenges and needs. This is where having Director Harllee Harper work out of the City Administrator's office can have the largest impact. I expect in the coming month we will see more comprehensive developments geared toward gun violence.
I’ll add that we’re also looking at ways to improve our 911 dispatch system to better target resources where they’re needed to address gun violence. It’s sometimes called ‘alternatives to policing.’ To be clear, that’s not meant to refer to alternatives to responding to violence or guns. It’s more about the calls for things like fireworks, loud music, someone in mental health crisis, homelessness, etc. Looking through the data, these make up a huge number of MPD’s calls for service and don’t always require a law enforcement response. Nor are police always best equipped to best respond, especially for issues related to homelessness and behavioral health. Other cities around the country have been creating crisis response teams – often pairing a paramedic and social worker – to respond to calls that don’t need the police. It creates a 911 system that better deploys the right resources. And it also means that sworn officers are freed up to focus on violent crime and other urgent matters. I’m interested in what DC can do in this realm. We’ve already started something similar on the emergency medical side where nurses are paired with 911 operators to redirect non-emergent calls to primary care providers rather than always sending an ambulance.
I hope this helps. I know it can be alarming when a serious crime takes place near home or to someone we know. Please know I take violent crime very seriously, as I know all of my colleagues on the Council do. We want to make lasting improvements, not only to create a safer community for everyone, but also to break persistent cycles of crime and tragedy. This is not an either/or strategy, but two responses that must work hand-in-hand.
The US Capitol Fence Needs to Come Down
In this town, temporary security measures have a way of becoming permanent. We cannot let that happen with the expanded fence perimeter around the Capitol that's been in place since after the January 6 insurrection. The US Capitol is the "people's house" and accessibility to its grounds is both an important symbol and necessary part of a vibrant and active neighborhood surrounding it. Open the streets. Take down the fence. I fully support efforts to ensure we never see another January 6, but leaving a giant fence in place blocking access isn't the solution, it's admitting defeat. I spoke with NBC 4 and Washington Post about where we need to go from here.
Down Payment Assistance for Essential Workers
I wanted to quickly share an opportunity for essential workers on limited incomes to qualify for assistance with a down payment toward a home purchase. Learn more here: https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/10000-in-homebuying-help-for-essential-workers
Keep the Washington Channel Open to Everyone
This week I joined DC residents and neighbors in Southwest to push back on a proposal by the US Army that would severely restrict access to the Washington Channel. The meeting was hosted by the District's Congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton. I testified against the proposal. I believe strongly that we need to preserve access to the water for everyone. More coverage from WAMU.
I know I might sound like a broken record, but our small and local restaurants badly need our support to get through this pandemic. This week and next are DC's winter restaurant week, typically taking place when business would be slower in normal times. If you can afford to, I really urge you to treat yourself to a meal or two (with generous tipping) to help restaurants keep going.
Update on Bridgepoint Hospital
On Thursday, there was an explosion at the Bridgepoint Hospital, located in Northeast DC. I was on-site with Fire and EMS, and can report we were very fortunate that no one was seriously injured or killed. While I will wait until FEMS and DCRA make their official reports, I can confirm it was not related to a generator on the rooftop and that the building is stable (I know this was a concern for nearby residents). Here's more in the Hill Rag.
Free Tax Prep Assistance for DC Residents Earning $57k and under (English y Español)
As we head into tax season, there are great resources available to ensure folks, particularly anyone on a tight budget, can maximize their returns this tax season. Catholic Charities DC has asked to spread the word on their volunteer tax assistance network. Learn more here and share with neighbors who could use a pro's review for free (services available in both English and Spanish/ Español). This service is available for free to anyone who earned $57,000 or under last year.
Events DC Announces Dates for Community Grant Funding
Events DC will be holding information sessions ahead of a March 1 deadline for community nonprofits to apply for grant funding. There are six upcoming information sessions in the next two weeks on Feb 4, 10, 16. Find all of the information you need here: https://eventsdc.com/community/community-grants.
Get Your Statehood Yard Sign
The fine folks over at Neighbors United for DC Statehood wanted me to include information on how you can get your free DC Statehood Yard Sign. If you'd like to request one, head right this way.
Thanks everyone. Have a great weekend (maybe enjoy a little snow) and stay safe!