Millionaire Ann Marie Staudenmaier, wife of Maryland governor’s candidate Tom Perez, is once again fighting to keep D.C.’s homeless populations in the streets. Staudenmaier has a long history of pushing programs and filing lawsuits to keep homeless encampments in public areas, regardless of the damage to local taxpayers and businesses.
This time, the victim is a D.C. cafe that can’t add outdoor seating because the area out front is already claimed — by homeless squatters.
Like many restaurants trying to attract business after a year of suffocating COVID-19 regulations, Zeleno’s Cafe was trying to expand its outdoor tables and chairs. Executive Director Bill McLeod of Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, where the coffee shop is located, filed a public-use permit for the sidewalk seating. “This little coffee shop is barely making it and trying to expand, which is why they wanted to have more tables on the street,” McLeod wrote.
According to the DCist, the homeless encampment in that space was scheduled to be cleared but “at the last minute, D.C. switched to a trash-only cleanup, meaning that the people living there wouldn’t have to leave the area.” The change came after non-local activists like Staudenmaier argued public-use permits like these unfairly target those who live in the tents by the storefronts on public property.
Staudenmaier and her fellow activists don’t want to stop with this one cafe, either. Thirty representatives from D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissions submitted a letter to the mayor, council, and Department of Transportation calling for a ban on “streateries” in areas that are currently occupied by homeless encampments.
The letter asked “that DDOT issue no additional permits, and reconsider those that have been issued but not yet implemented, for outdoor seating in places that currently have people living on them.”
As an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, the wealthy Staudenmaier has fought for the homeless to remain on the streets for years. A lawsuit filed by her firm argued clearing the encampments “violates the Constitutional rights of encampment residents” but makes no mention of the rights of business owners and local residents affected by the camps.
Since the state of emergency declaration in D.C., the Centers for Disease Control has encouraged leaving homeless encampments out in public space instead of encouraging homeless people to live in clean shelters with hot running water and food. “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are,” the agency advises.
Staudenmaier, who lives in a high-end D.C suburb, not the city, supports this careless approach that has greatly exasperated the homeless crisis in D.C.
“They’ve done this now for more than a year and the sky hasn’t fallen,” Staudenmaier said. “Our position is, can’t we just continue in this vein of, clean up the encampments. Try to get people in the encampments into housing, but in the meantime, don’t evict them from the only place that they have to call home.”
There’s no evidence she supports similar homeless encampments in her own backyard.
Hindering the ability of small businesses to survive in the aftermath of COVID-19 regulations won’t help the homeless situation. Crime rates have soared, drug and alcohol abuse has skyrocketed, and mental health issues are going unaddressed — none of which helps the homeless or local businesses. Maybe if Staudenmaier actually lived in D.C. she would know that.