Ensuring that DC General Replacement Shelters Meet Basic Health and Safety Standards

Posted on Oct 5, 2015 in Advocates, Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Hyperthermia, Hypothermia, Justice, Law, People, Poverty, Shelter, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

The DC Council introduced Bill 21-352, “Advancing Year Round Access to Shelter Policy and Prevention of Homelessness Amendment Act of 2015” on behalf of the Mayor. There are two parts to the bill: 1) lowering the standard to allow the Mayor to replace DC General units with private rooms instead of apartment-style shelter and 2) creating an “interim eligibility” system for family shelter applicants. Today’s blog will be focused on the closure of DC General.

Mayor Bowser has made it a top priority of her Administration to “close DC General and replace it with smaller, more dignified community-based emergency housing located across DC.” We applaud Mayor Bowser for this goal …

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Mayor Bowser’s First Budget Reflects Fresh Start for Homeless Services

Posted on Apr 7, 2015 in Benefits, Budget Cuts, Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Hyperthermia, Hypothermia, Justice, Law, Non Profit, People, Poverty, Shelter, TANF, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

Last week, Mayor Bowser released her first budget proposal. While it will take us a while to delve into the details, the budget appears to be a better reflection of our clients’ priorities than any mayoral budget we have seen in years. Here are some highlights: ICH STRATEGIC PLAN: Last week, the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) passed a Strategic Plan to End Homelessness (Homeward DC). The Mayor’s proposed budget includes significant funding to begin implementation of that plan, including beginning to replace some of our largest, most institutional shelters with smaller, more humane shelters and increasing the number of people whose homelessness will be ended by rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, and targeted affordable housing. It also includes funding for a new daytime services center for people experiencing homelessness. HOUSING PRODUCTION TRUST FUND: The budget proposal designates enough funding to bring the balance of the Housing Production Trust Fund up to $100 million. By law, 40% of that pot goes to developing affordable housing for people who make between 0 and 30% of Area Median Income (AMI). HOMELESS SERVICES BUDGET: The proposal attempts to “right size” the homeless services budget under the Department of Human Services by fully funding the legal requirement to appropriately shelter people who are homeless when the temperature falls below freezing. If the level of the funding matches the need, we should see fewer service cuts during the warmer months. TANF: There is a one year reprieve for the more than 13,000 children who would have lost all of their income benefits in October under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF). This year-long reprieve will allow the Mayor to shore up the job training and placement programs that must be improved in order for families to survive without TANF benefits. Increasing income is a critical tool to decreasing homelessness. However, her budget does not restore families’ benefits to their original levels, and many of these families have already received three rounds of cuts to their benefits despite compliance with program rules. A family of three that previously received $428 per month in TANF cash assistance now receives just $152 per month (as of October 1, 2014). Families have had their benefits cut without the chance to benefit from the improved job training and placement programs. REVENUE: While Mayor Bowser had to close a $190 million budget gap, she did not do so by cutting services to the very people that her new initiatives are trying to serve. Instead, the gap has been closed and programs have been increased by targeted cuts (for which we will soon get more detail on impact) and increased revenue (such as increasing the sales tax—which, while...

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Year-Round Access to Shelter Should Be Front and Center in ICH Plan to End Homelessness

Posted on Mar 30, 2015 in Advocates, Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Hyperthermia, Hypothermia, Justice, Law, People, Poverty, Shelter, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

Tomorrow, the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) will convene its first meeting of the year at which members will discuss and vote on the Five Year Plan to End Homelessness (the “Plan”). The Legal Clinic submitted comments to the Draft Plan last week (our full comments can be found here) and for the most part, we are incredibly pleased with the level of substance and detail in the Plan. We also support the Plan’s overarching goals of: Ending homelessness among Veterans by December 2015; Ending chronic homelessness among families and individuals by December 2017; and Ensuring anyone experiencing a housing crisis in the future is rehoused within an average of 60 days or less by 2020. We applaud the ICH for its incredibly hard work in developing a Plan that is both data driven and the result of a truly comprehensive, community-wide process. We support the Guiding Principles, goals, and timeline set out in the Plan and are excited about how meaningfully the Plan addresses ending chronic homelessness in the District of Columbia and transforming the shelter system to one that is safer, more humane, and that helps move people to housing more quickly. However, the need to move immediately towards and budget for year-round access to emergency shelter for families with no safe place to stay is not emphasized enough in the Plan. For the past 3-4 years, the DC government has only placed families in emergency shelters when it was legally required to do so by the Homeless Services Reform Act—on days where the temperature fell below freezing. As a result, hundreds of families have spent nights with their children not only couch surfing in unstable and unsafe housing but also staying in cars, all-night restaurants and Laundromats, city parks, abandoned buildings, with abusers, and with strangers they barely knew, because they had no access to shelter. In addition to putting children and parents at grave personal risk, serving families only in the winter has had system-wide consequences, which negatively impact the potential for Plan success. These include: increased and costly neglect investigations by Child Protective Services; a logjam of family applications and shelter placements during hypothermia season; more intense and costly service and housing needs of families when they finally enter shelter; and a reduction in the willingness of families to exit shelter into programs that have time limits. While several parts of the Plan touch on the need for year-round access, the current draft of the Plan is lacking in two significant ways: The Plan calls for DC General’s closure once one-for-one replacement of the units at DC General has been achieved. However, this could happen while families are still in unsafe setting seven...

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