The two D.C. residents struck and killed by a vehicle at Hains Point Saturday morning were dedicated to advocating for the homeless.
Waldon Adams, 60, and Rhonda Whitaker, 55, had both experienced homelessness in their own lives before working with area nonprofits to help others.
They were hit and killed while out for a walk along Hains Point in Southwest D.C.
Adams worked at Pathways to Housing DC and was a board member of Friendship Place, a nonprofit that provides a range of services as well as housing.
Whitaker was a member of the Speakers Bureau of Miriam’s Kitchen and described by the organization as “an ardent advocate for ending homelessness in her native District of Columbia.” She had moved into her own permanent home in March 2020.
“Waldon was an inspiration to anyone who met him,” said Jean-Michel Giraud, president and CEO of Friendship Place. “He was giving, courageous” and had a talent for advocacy.
Adams “had a really keen understanding of the system” and was a proponent of permanent, supportive housing — a philosophy that believes the first step to dealing with homelessness is to get stable shelter for people, then tackle whatever underlying problems they may have, whether it’s substance abuse, medical or mental health issues.
Adams, said Giraud, had an approach to helping those who’ve experienced homelessness gain some agency over their own situations, in “letting the person drive their own rebuilding process.”
Part of that approach could be tied to his own experience: A veteran, Adams had suffered from mental health issues and developed drug and alcohol addictions.
By 2014, he was celebrating five years of sobriety, had found stable housing, and was already hard at work helping others. He had also become a dedicated runner, taking part in marathons.
“He was someone who gave it all when he picked a cause,” said Giraud.
Adams talked with WTOP’s John Domen last year about how fulfilling the goal of running the Marine Corps Marathon — a desire based on an image he saw as a child — took the kind of sustained effort he’d never been able to manage before. Lining up to run his first race, Adams remembered, gave him the feeling that “I’m part of the world.” And finishing it was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Last year, his health precluded his running the traditional marathon, but when it was shifted to a virtual run because of the pandemic, he completed the Marine Corps Trifecta — the marathon, the 10K and the 50K — on three successive weekends.
He racked up the miles by walking around Hains Point.
The loss of Adams and Whitaker is felt at a profound level, said Giraud, who described the community of advocates for homeless people as very tight-knit.
Adams, who had overcome so much, could have concentrated enjoying all he had achieved, but Giraud said, “He never forgot people. He gave back in this very important way. The advocacy spoke for itself.”
The driver who allegedly hit the two cooperated with Park Police. The U.S. Park Police said in a statement that they are “working with the U.S. Attorney’s office to determine what specific charges will be filed in Saturday’s fatal hit-and-run pending the results of a toxicology report and police investigation.”
The speed limit on the road is 20 mph.
(Editor’s note April 28, 2021 4:00 p.m. — This story has been updated to reflect the driver who allegedly hit the two pedestrians cooperated with Park Police.)