Homeless deal with frigid local temperatures

Darryl Roundtree slept outside on a bench by the Silver Spring Metro station Friday night with only two blankets between him and the freezing cold temperature, which dipped down into the low teens that night.

It’s not the first night by far the 55-year old man has slept outside. He’s been homeless for about seven years now, he said as he finished enjoying a free, healthy brunch at Progress Place on Georgia Avenue Saturday morning. 

He had tried to get over to the Montgomery County-owned-facility where Shepherd’s Table, Interfaith Works and other non-profits provide services to the area’s homeless. He had hoped to sleep in the shelter there Friday night, but wasn’t able to make the half-mile trip, he said.

He did, however, get there for the weekend brunch offered by Shepherd’s Table. About 120 homeless people ate their first meal of the day there Saturday, which is about average, said Chef Keith White. He predicted there would be between 150 and 170 people eating dinner there that night.

The frigid temperatures didn’t seem to bring in more people, he said. “I don’t want to say they get used to it. They just deal with it,” he said of the cold.

The County has many shelters, including three emergency shelter programs operated by Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, which partners with the County, State of Maryland and federal government. 

According to that organization, there are 894 people who are homeless on any given day in the County. 

The coalition provides emergency shelter for about 750 adults and 284 children.

While services to assist the homeless are available in the County, some people who are down on their luck want nothing to do with these programs. 

Panhandlers can be found daily at highly-trafficked intersections, clinging to cardboard signs that note their circumstances and ask for money. Many are veterans, according to their signs, in need of medical care for themselves or a family member or are homeless.

They receive donations as they walk up and down the median strip and sometimes onto the road itself, stopping to accept money from hands sticking out of car windows.

But they may not be allowed to do that much longer, under a bill proposed by County Council member Craig Rice. 

According to Rice’s bill, which was introduced on Dec. 12, no one will be permitted to stand “in a roadway to solicit, sell or distribute any material to certain occupants of motor vehicles.” 

Specifically, the bill would prohibit any selling or solicitation “to the occupant of any motor vehicle stopped” on the road.

A public hearing on the bill is tentatively set for Jan. 30 at 1:30 p.m. If adopted, it would take effect Oct. 1.

Rice did not respond to a request for an interview by the Sentinel, but he currently is gathering data on the number of deaths and injuries that have occurred as a result of people asking for money or selling things in traffic. 

There have been incidents on intersections where pedestrians have been injured or killed with soliciting or distributing in the roadway, according to the bill.

When asked what he thought of panhandlers, Roundtree took another puff on his cigarette and said, “You do what you gotta do.”


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