I appeal not to create walls, but to build bridges. Pope Francis

As we told you earlier, despite the fact that DC emergency shelters already have the highest burden for proving DC residency of any DC program, Mayor Bowser is proposing doubling the requirement for documentation. The Bill would increase the requirement from one to two pieces of documentation from a new, enumerated list of documents, almost all of which require an applicant to have recently had a residential address. The Bill also removes the ability to establish residency during a 3-day grace period, and now only allows that period to be used for documenting that the family was a DC resident the day the family applied.

Many groups, including ACLU of DC, Bread for the City, Break the Cycle, Disability Rights DC, District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), Fair Budget Coalition, Children’s Law Center, DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Legal Aid Society, Miriam’s Kitchen, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, and the Legal Clinic have expressed serious concerns about the Mayor’s proposal, including:

DASH has a great many concerns about the additional barriers to housing that the bill, in its current form, would pose for survivors attempting to access housing.  The additional residency requirements, along with the added burden of proof of domestic violence to qualify for housing assistance, present unnecessary hurdles for survivors attempting to achieve safety and stability free from violence. The partnership between DASH and DHS is beginning to create real success in facilitating access for survivors appropriately and safely throughout the District.  These new requirements are not needed and may serve to endanger survivors further, and undermine the progress that has been made. Peg Hacskaylo, District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH)

By doubling documentation requirements – even for families who have already demonstrated their DC residency for the purposes of identification, school enrollment, or public benefits, the bill effectively creates a residency standard for homeless services that is higher than any of these programs. The bill does this in spite of the fact that, as noted above, failing to provide services to people experiencing homelessness can have serious and immediate consequences for their health and safety.  Damon King, Legal Aid Society of DC

In effect, a family would have to live (be housed with a DC address) in the District for a certain period of time before they could acquire eleven out of thirteen of the listed documents. Residency requirements that restrict access to public benefits to those who have lived in the jurisdiction for a period of time have been found unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court has held that the right to travel between states “is a right that has been firmly established and repeatedly recognized” and that discriminating against newer residents on the basis of duration of residency can amount to an equal protection violation. By requiring documentation of residency that would take significant time spent in the District to acquire, and by eliminating the current grace period for homeless families to establish residency, the proposed bill creates a de facto durational residency requirement for accessing shelter services in the District. Such a requirement may implicate the constitutional right to travel.  Nassim Moshiree, ACLU of DC

The Administration, when attempting to justify putting forth such a high standard for residency, implies that there are significant numbers of families flooding our shelters from other jurisdictions, and that the District has no way of stopping them. They provide no data to support this claim. The only data they provide is the numbers of families who already are denied by the current restrictions, but that data does not support a harsher standard, it shows what the current law is doing.

Laura Zeilinger, the Director of the Department of the Human Services (DHS), has stated that the intent of the proposal is to “send a message” to other jurisdictions that they shouldn’t be sending people here for shelter. Assuming for a moment that other jurisdictions are sending families here just for our shelter beds, legislation that restricts access to people in crisis is the wrong way to “send a message” to government leaders. Surely DC government officials have better ways of communicating with their peers than with veiled legislative language, and surely those who are doing the sending (not those being sent) should bear any penalty for doing so.

With regard to residency, what we see more than anything else are fluid borders and people crossing back and forth multiple times throughout their lives—sometimes staying with family members or friends in Maryland or Virginia temporarily when they need help. Surrounding jurisdictions, in fact, claim that DC is sending its poor people to them for their affordable housing. Many people, even if they leave temporarily in hopes of working out something with a family member or finding affordable housing come back to DC, because it’s their home. Clients tell us all the time, particularly in Rapid Re-housing, that they are pressured to leave DC by DHS-funded providers:

 …she isn’t making any effort to help me find another apartment for when my subsidy ends or to help me become stable.  She only told me that I should move to Maryland or get another part time job.  I don’t want to move to Maryland.  My family and community are in DC. A.L.

My case manager has encouraged me to leave DC—my family, my friends and my community—to use programs that are available in Maryland and Virginia. D.M.

DC shouldn’t participate in a “race to the bottom” to close its borders and its doors to poor people. We should instead convene our regional partners and develop a joint approach to our region’s homelessness and affordable housing crisis. In the meantime, it is unjust to let the burden of our failure to do so fall on the people seeking help.

Let the Committee on Human Services know that #DCvalues mean serving all the people within our borders who need help, regardless of what documents they have with them at a time of crisis:

Brianne Nadeau Chair, Ward 1 Councilmember 202-724-8181 bnadeau@dccouncil.us
Brandon Todd Ward 4 Councilmember 202-724-8052 btodd@dccouncil.us
Trayon White Ward 8 Councilmember 202-724-8045 twhite@dccouncil.us
Robert White At large Councilmember 202-724-8174 rwhite@dccouncil.us
David Grosso At large Councilmember 202-724-8105 dgrosso@dccouncil.us


Thank you for making your voice heard! Continue urging Committee members to #VoteNoHSRABill!

Stay tuned for further analysis and updates – follow us on Twitter (@WashLegalClinic). Use #VoteNoHSRABill to spread the word!