Given that poverty and a lack of affordable housing are the driving forces behind skyrocketing family homelessness in the District, policy makers must focus on preserving and building deeply affordable family housing and tenant vouchers rather than continue to champion short-term programs that offer less effective, shorter term solutions.
The fellowship is one of the many wonderful benefits of our partnership with Georgetown University Law Center on Home Court. The opportunity to form relationships with students each year as well as share in this important work is hugely important to the Legal Clinic. We – and most importantly, our clients – benefit greatly from their invaluable support.
The Legal Clinic firmly believes that the solution to rampant family homelessness is the preservation and expansion of affordable family housing. However, DC must maintain adequate emergency shelter that is immediately available for those facing acute housing crises.
Since 1990, people experiencing homelessness, advocates, activists, and other community members have used the Winter Solstice – the darkest day of the year – to celebrate the lives and mourn the passing of those who died homeless during the year. This year 51 people were mourned.
The Bowser Administration has proposed amendments to the Homeless Services Reform Act that would impose upon homeless families in DC stricter standards for proving their residency and eligibility for live-saving shelter. We are concerned that the proposal will impose barriers that could prevent DC’s most vulnerable families from accessing desperately needed shelter. Set out below is a letter to the DC Council from the Legal Clinic and a number of our colleagues in the provider and advocacy community, urging the Council to provide an adequate opportunity for community input about what the impact of these changes will be. We hope you’ll join us in calling on the Council not to move the legislation forward on an emergency basis.
Last Tuesday, the DC Council made changes to the Mayor’s proposed legislation to close the DC General family shelter and voted unanimously in favor of the bill. (It requires two votes to become law). We strongly support the changes to the bill and urge the Mayor and Council to work out any remaining kinks and expeditiously finalize and pass this important legislation. The new version of the bill maintains the overall approach proposed by Mayor Bowser—that DC General be replaced with smaller shelters dispersed throughout the District. It also keeps more than half of the sites that the Mayor recommended (Wards 1, 4, 7 and 8). The major changes are to authorize DC to purchase or use eminent domain to acquire the Wards 1 and 4 properties, and to switch the Wards 3, 5, and 6 sites for specific DC-owned properties. The Council also included capital dollars in the FY17 budget to fund such acquisition and/or development of the properties into shelters. If none of the sites are leased, the District will save about $165 million. In our view, the changes to the bill fairly reflect three months of community input into the specifics of the Mayor’s plan. The Mayor has held at least two community meetings in each ward to solicit input on the plan and the Council held a hearing at which we testified on March 17th. Overwhelmingly, community members supported the Mayor’s overall approach to closing DC General yet raised serious concerns about high leasing costs, the short term of shelter leases when family homelessness looks to be a long term problem, the lack of private bathrooms and cooking space in the designs, and problems with the sites in Wards 3, 5 and 6. There were sign-on letters from advocacy organizations, letters from health professionals, and multiple stories in the press that echoed these concerns (such as the Ward 5 site’s asthma risks, the Ward 6 site’s proximity to the Blind Whino, and overall costs). For the sites in Wards 3, 5 and 6, there were also significant concerns about upcoming zoning battles and resulting delays. Of the three sites replacing the Mayor’s suggestions, at least two (Wards 3 and 5) were proposed as alternatives by Ward constituents and Councilmembers to the Mayor’s office and vetted openly. It’s easy to become distracted by the political drama surrounding this issue, but step back for a moment, and we achieve a brighter perspective. First, this is how democracy should work. The Mayor can and should take leadership to propose a major initiative that the Administration will have to execute. And when that initiative is laid out in legislation, it is up to the Council to hold a hearing and mark up the...