The Underpass Where Angela Hill Lived And Died Will Be A Spot For Community Gathering A resident who knew Hill for nearly two decades is launching weekly events in the underpass where Hill died, focused on mental health and healing.
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The Underpass Where Angela Hill Lived And Died Will Be A Spot For Community Gathering

Angela Hill, a 58-year-old grandmother and mother, is pictured with two nephews in 1983. Hill died in a Southeast underpass last week, where she lived for years. Courtesy of William Jackson/ hide caption

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Courtesy of William Jackson/

Last Saturday, a crowd of 80 people gathered under the I-295 overpass in Southeast D.C. to remember Angela Hill, the 58-year-old grandmother, mother, aunt, and community fixture who died there earlier that week.

Now, a D.C. resident wants to honor Hill's life by permanently memorializing the spot where she lived for several years.

"That woman was not poor Angie, poor lady under the bridge. This girl was a powerful example of hope and resiliency. That's what I want people to know," says Sharon Wise, a 57-year-old, Ward 8 resident who says she knew Hill for 17 years.

Wise, who herself experienced homelessness periodically over 10 years, is starting a weekly series of community events at the underpass, and leading the charge to rename a it in Hill's memory.

This Saturday from 12 to 2 p.m., Wise will host the first "The Under The Bridge Experience: Lunch at 'Angie's Place'" — a series she hopes to continue year-round with poetry and book readings, community meals, and classes that celebrate Hill and what Wise says the bridge represents: "a will to survive."

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"Everybody's got an under-the-bridge experience. It may not be physically under the bridge," she says. "It can be fake friends...People at work switch up on you and start clique-ing. Everybody has had an under-the-bridge experience, so I want this to be Angie's Place — a place where you could come and reflect not on the negative, but how you survived," Wise says, adding that she hopes people "take five minutes to reflect on the homeless [and] their lives."

Wise says she reached out to Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray to rename the underpass "Angela Hill Way," and she plans to add a mural to the wall where Hill died — two physical reminders of Hill's longstanding presence in the community.

Per the D.C. Code, a person must be dead for at least two years before a public space can be dedicated in their name — a provision cited by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson when he stopped a resolution to rename a D.C. block after the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A spokesperson for Gray's office tells DCist that they are in touch with Wise regarding her vision for the space, but a renaming measure would need ultimate approval from the council.

Hill lived under the I-295 overpass for several years. Jimmie Williams/Washington Literacy Center hide caption

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Jimmie Williams/Washington Literacy Center

Wise is one of the dozens of neighbors who dropped off items like food, water, and clothing for Hill over the years that she lived in the underpass.

Like Hill, Wise spent years unhoused and sleeping under a bridge and used second-hand, recycled, and donated items to survive. Since 2004, she's worked as a peer specialist with the Department of Behavioral Health, informing those experiencing housing insecurity about shower locations, where to get their mail delivered, and other resources. Wise also organizes and trains volunteers through her marketing organization, Jus Swagg TV, and together they deliver toiletries, PPE, sanitary items, and canned goods to people experiencing homelessness.

Wise says she wants the space not to symbolize Hill's troubles, but instead serve as a gathering place for healing, mental health resources, and community support. She says that events under the bridge will relate back to Hill because it will "tie [to] survival .... but also to [talk about] how you can improve your life, health, spirituality, and mental health."

Over the years she knew her, Wise says she witnessed Hill show signs of trauma.

"There was a time I could walk right up to her and give her $10 and everything. And then it became a time when she would literally throw feces at me," she says. "She didn't know her friends from her foes, from who was really there to help those who were there to hurt her."

Wise says that Hill's response was like an "unspoken language" that she understood because she responded similarly to trauma while she was homeless.

Wise says she herself was beaten and raped while homeless, and "everyone is now someone who wants to try to hurt me, because now I don't know the difference."

Ashley Brown, Hill's daughter, told the Washington Post that Hill struggled with mental illness for most of Brown's life, often not recognizing her family, or resisting their repeated attempts to remove her from the underpass.

"It's just been a really tough, tough struggle trying to keep her alive out there," Brown told the Post after Hill's death. "We just tried to make sure she had the things she needed to survive. . . . At times, we tried to take her physically somewhere, and she would fight. My mom was most comfortable where she was."

William Jackson, Hill's nephew, says that despite Hill's challenges, he chooses to remember his aunt for their shared Sunday dinners and trips to the park. Using the space to provide resources and support for mental health, according to Jackson, would be the best way to honor Hill's life for her family, who cared for her deeply.

"I definitely think tackling it from a mental illness standpoint would be the best way for my family to really remember her and help others," Jackson said. "Mental illness is very real and unfortunately, there is a correlation between mental illness and homelessness but it doesn't have to be, if the city steps up in terms of helping people with mental illness."

For Jackson, Wise's attempt to preserve his aunt's memory demonstrates just how many people in the community came to recognize and know her as a neighbor, even if they never spoke.

"I feel like renaming that portion of the bridge, or that portion of the underpass, or even putting a plaque there in her memory is a great way to still have her there," Jackson said. "People were definitely touched by her, even if they never met her or had an encounter with her."

For Jackson, the underpass is part of an unavoidable route. He has to pass it on his way to his aunt's house or to fill up at the gas station. He hasn't driven by since the vigil on Saturday, but like many residents, he says he knows it'll feel empty without his aunt, next time he passes.

"It is going to hit me a little bit differently," Jackson says.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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