Behind a soon-to-be-redeveloped property a few blocks from the boutique shops and upscale eateries of Bethesda Row, John Mendez and his team of volunteers found nine homeless people trying to sleep through the rain early Tuesday morning.
Most were likely chronically homeless. Some — depending on the results of the survey the volunteers performed — might be medically vulnerable, meaning they suffer from diabetes, hepatitis, kidney disease, alcoholism or one of a number of other disabilities common in the homeless population.
The surest way to help them improve is to put a roof over their heads, says Mendez, outreach specialist at the homeless services nonprofit Bethesda Cares.
But according to Mendez and Bethesda Cares Executive Director Susan Kirk, not everyone, including the Montgomery County government, has fully embraced the strategy.
It’s why they’re thankful for the 100,000 Homes campaign, a nationwide initiative to document illnesses of the chronically homeless to help prioritize them for housing assistance.
At 5 a.m., Mendez led four teams of volunteer medical students from the Uniformed Services University at Walter Reed to different spots where the most vulnerable homeless are known to rest for the night. They asked them to answer questions about their medical histories as a way to help make the case that they deserve housing assistance.
This fiscal year, Mendez said the county has provided 25 housing slots for these people.
Still, Kirk said government agencies and housing service providers give preference to families or individuals who have the support network and ability to overcome poverty more easily, who have a place to live other than the streets.
“The way housing is given out now, the whole idea is, ‘Who deserves a house,’” Kirk said. “It’s like, ‘How can I tell this young family with kids that they can’t have housing when we’re going to put someone in off the street.’ There’s this judgement that the person off the street isn’t as deserving as that one.”
St. John’s Episcopal Church (6701 Wisconsin Ave.) will have its annual “Blessing of the Animals” and pet adoption fair on Sunday to mark the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
Anybody with a pet is invited to bring their animal to the church for a special blessing at about 5 p.m., after the adoption event, which will run from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Susan Pizza, a church member and event organizer, said St. John’s clergy will offer individual blessings for each pet and dogs and cats will receive a special souvenir. All are welcome, regardless of their religious views.
Pizza, who owns a number of cats, described the connection she has developed with her pets as a reason for staging the event.
“I always have to start with the thought of unconditional love,” Pizza said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of lousy mood I’m in. They love me. It’s that companionship, the comfort they bring when things aren’t going well.”
More than 60 people braved poor weather conditions at last year’s Blessing, and Pizza is hoping for closer to 100 attendees this weekend.
It’s not the only church that will be celebrating its pets.
In Silver Spring, the St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church will have a Blessing of the Animals. The church is located next to the Aspin Hill pet cemetery, known as the burial ground for such famous pets as J. Edgar Hoover’s dog Spee-de-Bozo and General Grant Jiggs of “Little Rascals” fame.
“I think it’s to celebrate not only the animals that touch our lives but also the whole of creation,” Pizza said. “It brings you a connection to another being.”
The Montgomery County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Pet Connect and The Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue will run the adoption fair.
California Tortilla co-founder Pam Felix is crossing her fingers that the flagship store of the fast-growing Mexican chain will be ready to open tomorrow (Wednesday.)
The move across the street to a bigger location at 4871 Cordell Ave. is almost complete. On Tuesday, Felix and co-founder Alan Cohen were waiting for a Montgomery County Health Department official to finish inspections as they and their crew feverishly worked on some final touches.
The old location (4862 Cordell Ave.) has been empty for about a week as workers moved equipment.
The outdoor seating area, which Felix said might extend along the Norfolk Avenue side of the restaurant, will accomodate as many as 100 people.
The “Grand Opening” celebration is slated for
Nov. 9 Tuesday, Oct. 9, said California Tortilla Vice President of Marketing Stacey Kane.
The Eastham Exxon Servicenter (7100 Wisconsin Ave.) is closed for good as crews have been on-site this week preparing for a 145-unit apartment project.
The gas station, in Bethesda since 1929, sold gas for the last time on Sept. 30. But general manager R. Steven Embrey had hoped to keep the auto repair shop open for longer, at least until developer Washington Property Company got final approval to proceed with construction.
Washington Property Company Senior Vice President Daryl South told The Gazette last month that construction should start in 18 to 24 months.
The developer is seeking a zoning amendment to build a taller building than the Bethesda Central Business District Master Plan allows.
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) said he challenged the other eight council members and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) to “start thinking differently about the way our government operates,” when he took over as council leader at the beginning of the year.
The comments come in an almost four-minute “Welcome Video” published yesterday by Montgomery County.
In it, Berliner touted some of his own work in economic development, transportation projects, the energy tax reduction and electricity reliability issues with Pepco.
“Our county’s demographics are, for the first time, changing in a very significant way,” Berliner said. “A Montgomery County way needs a fresh approach to get things done.”
According to 2010 U.S. Census numbers, Montgomery County is now one of 336 “majority-minority” counties in the country, meaning people identified as minorities make up more than 50 percent of the population. The county’s Hispanic population grew by almost 65 percent from the 2000 Census, and the population of non-Hispanic Whites fell from 59 percent to 49 percent of the population in the same time.
“We need to introduce new words like nimble and entrepreneurial if we are going to compete in an increasingly competitive regional and global economy,” Berliner said. “I sponsored legislation this year that assisted our county small businesses and I am pleased that we are making progress on streamlining our permitting and development processes so that businesses can spend more time cutting ribbons and less time cutting through red tape.”
Berliner also spoke about fighting to keep the 2nd District Bethesda police station open for 24 hours a day and about adding more police officers on the street.
The Council President typically serves one one-year term, in which he or she sets the agenda and acts as the public face of the council. Berliner’s term will end in December, when Council Vice President Nancy Navarro (D-Colesville) is slated to take over.
Prosecutors Try To Shut Down Car Chase Defendant’s Website — Montgomery County prosecutors want to shut down the website of Reeco Richardson, the only survivor of a March car crash at Chevy Chase Circle. Richardson is charged with car theft after a high-speed police chase resulted in the crash. Richardson alleges police caused the accident. Prosecutors argue the website will taint the jury pool. [Washington Post]
Urban Outfitters Opening at Montgomery Mall — The store is set to open this month. [Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row]
O’Malley Defends Business Climate, Budget Tactics In Radio Show — Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) playfully challenged Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to a push-up contest and defended his state when asked about businesses leaving for Virginia. [WTOP]
Dance Bethesda Accepting Applications — The Bethesda Urban Partnership is accepting applications for the 2013 Dance Bethesda Concert, set for March. The deadline for applications and audition videos is Nov. 16. [Bethesda Urban Partnership]
B-CC Beats Whitman On Gridiron For First Time Since 1999 — A 7-3 win Saturday at Whitman gave the Barons (3-2) their first win in 13 years against their cross-town Bethesda rival. Whitman (2-3) didn’t score in four second-half red zone trips. Last season was B-CC’s first in the state playoffs in 16 years. [Washington Post]
Flickr photo by Bill in DC