Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

In Washington, an organization based at Union Station wants to end homelessness.

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Fight against homelessness at the train station

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A person experiencing homelessness walks at Union Station in Washington.

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“This person lives at the base of this pole. This one, at the foot of that other pole…” Columbus Square, in the heart of Washington, is radiant in the midday sun. Edward Wycliff begins his tour and meets people experiencing homelessness in front of Union Station, one of the busiest in the United States.

This young man is the outreach director for the H3 Project organization, which aims to end homelessness in the American capital. Every day, he speaks to his homeless “clients” around the station to help them in their search for housing or a job, for example.

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Edward Wycliff is the Director of Outreach at the H3 Project. He has around twenty “clients” with whom he maintains regular links.

But why did you choose Union Station as a base for an organization that fights against homelessness?

Washington is different from other American cities, replies the founder and director of the H3 Project, Ami Campbell, met in a small room at the station. This city is a magnet for those with mental illness. In the region we have the FBI, the CIA, the White House, the Capitol… When they don't take their medicine, they come here.

Friend Campbell says many of those who end up at Union Station may want to settle lawsuits in which they are involved. It is therefore a strategic location for the organization, which has concluded an agreement with the Amtrak police, deployed in the station.

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Union Station, Washington's main rail station.

When they see an individual in crisis, the police call us and offer to intervene first. They recognize the benefit of having a support system there.

A quote from Ami Campbell, founder and director of the H3 Project

LoadingRecord number of 170,829 surgeries pending in Quebec

ELSE ON INFO: Record number of 170,829 surgeries waiting in Quebec< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">The employees of his organization know the homeless people who frequent the station and sometimes use very simple tricks to appease them.

The face of homelessness in Washington, report by Violette Cantin. BROADCAST HERE FIRST. It's our business.

The face of homelessness in Washington, report by Violette Cantin

BROADCAST HERE FIRSTIt's our business

Listen to the audio (The face of homelessness in Washington, report by Violette Cantin. 5 minutes 51 seconds)

For example, Ami Campbell always carries cigarettes in her bag: smoking can immediately calm someone who needs help, she says. I can't tell you the number of times I've walked up to someone in deep crisis and offered them a cigarette. Many accept it and it instantly calms them down.

But sometimes, that is not enough. About an hour before your arrival, six people were found overdosing at the entrance to the station, says Ami Campbell. They were all within a 20 foot radius.

These emergency situations are the daily life of H3 Project employees. Outreach director Edward Wycliff estimates that since the start of the year, he has rescued at least 50 people from overdoses.

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Edward Wycliff goes to meet one of his regular “clients”, based at Columbus Square.

Since its creation in 2020, the organization has expanded: while Ami Campbell was initially alone, it now has nine other employees deployed in several central districts of Washington.

The U.S. Capital Region is grappling with an increase in homelessness: it jumped 18% over the past year, according to data provided by the cities that make up the region. And shocking images of the dismantling of camps have left their mark, like the one that occurred in McPherson Square, a stone's throw from the White House, last February. More than 70 people lived there.

However, the H3 Project continues its ambitious mission to end homelessness in this city. In addition to their work at the station, field workers help people in many aspects of their lives, including applying for a birth certificate or getting a place on a list of candidates. ;waiting for accommodation.

The strong presence of homeless people in the area does not surprise Edward Wycliff. They feel good at Union Station. It has been a safe place for them, especially during the pandemic. They could be inside and take a break, he explains.

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Edward Wycliff speaks with Bruce and Christopher, two people experiencing homelessness who hope to have access to housing in the coming months.

A camp located at Place Columbus, just opposite the station, was dismantled last year. Some have nevertheless stayed there or simply come to spend part of their days there. This is the case of Bruce, who is chatting with his friend Christopher. Bruce has been homeless for several years. He lives in different places and often comes to the station area. He is well known to the employees of the H3 Project.

These people helped me a lot, says the talkative Washingtonian dynamically. They helped me get a grant to go to accommodation. I am waiting for my file to be approved.

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Bruce (right in photo) came to Columbus Square to chat with his friend Christopher.

Bruce has been on a waiting list for several months already and should get a place next year. A new beginning… far from Union Station.

Violette Cantin is recipient of the Experiencing Journalism Abroad grant from the UQAM Foundation.

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