Our 2017 Lane Evans Home Court Fellows Reflect on their Experiences

Posted on Apr 19, 2017 in Events, Home Court, Homelessness, Justice, Law, Shelter | 0 comments

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.

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Keep the Door Open for DC’s Homeless Families

Posted on Dec 1, 2016 in Action Alert, Homelessness, Justice, Law, Shelter, Uncategorized | 0 comments

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.

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Significant Progress on the Plan to Close DC General

Posted on May 24, 2016 in Advocates, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Human Rights, Hypothermia, Justice, Law, People, Poverty, Shelter, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

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...

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With Major Increase in Counted Homeless Families in DC, A Silver Lining and an Opportunity

Posted on May 11, 2016 in Budget Cuts, Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Law, People, Poverty, Shelter, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

Today, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) released the results of its annual Point-in-Time Count (PIT) of homeless persons in the region, including those in shelter or transitional housing as well as those staying on the street. While the number of counted homeless individuals fell by 3.8% since 2015, the number of counted families (1491) rose by almost 32% since last year’s report. That number may raise alarms, and it should, but not for the reasons you might suspect. This year’s PIT count is a significantly more accurate reflection of the number of families in DC facing homelessness than in years prior. Our challenge now as a community is to meet this need for affordable housing head on. For years, the District artificially kept down the number of counted homeless families by severely restricting access to emergency shelter services, both during hypothermic weather, when families have a right to shelter, and outside of it, when they do not. Under the Gray Administration, in the spring, summer and fall months, shelter units were left vacant while families slept out on the streets or in other unsafe situations. The myriad of practices and policies violating the rights of homeless families and dissuading them from further seeking services led us to publish a report in the winter of 2013 titled “Should DC Residents Need a Lawyer to Access Emergency Shelter?” Even for families that applied for shelter on nights when the hypothermia alert was in effect, the Gray Administration’s use of recreation centers as shelter in winter of 2014-2015 led to families choosing alternatives like sleeping in their cars because they felt safer there than in unsecure and communal gymnasiums. (A class action lawsuit and later, the DC Council’s legislation, ended this practice). Not only did all of the above lead to an undercounting of DC homeless families in the PIT count (because families who cannot access resources are not included in the count), but it likely contributed to increased numbers of families not getting the help they needed and falling deeper into crisis. In the past year, the Bowser Administration has enacted a much more humane and efficient approach to serving families where they are. For the first time in years, DC’s Department of Human Services began placing families in shelter this past spring and summer, even outside of hypothermia season. Although not all families who needed shelter were placed, many more were placed than in previous years (464 families according to the MWCOG report). And this past winter, despite unprecedented numbers of homeless families in the system, DHS managed to meet the needs of families applying for shelter with lawful placements and reduced unlawful family shelter denials by 40%. As stated...

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