We ask the DC Council to demonstrate the real political will to end homelessness, to demonstrate that they see ending homelessness as a political priority that deserves more than 1.5% of DC’s ever-increasing largesse.
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...
We’re heading into the final stretch of setting our collective budget priorities for 2017. The DC Council’s first full vote on the budget is next Tuesday, May 17th. Mayor Bowser and the DC Council have repeatedly touted their unprecedented collective commitment to ending homelessness. So far, we have not seen that political commitment play out in the budget process.
Last year, after a historic joint effort, we concluded: “via this budget, Mayor Bowser and the DC Council have shown that they have the political will to invest the necessary resources in ending homelessness.” Last July, Mayor Bowser, in an address at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness, agreed:
“DC is putting our money where our mouth is. Despite coming into office with an overall budget gap at the start of this year, I proposed historic investments to end homelessness in the District. And I’m proud to tell you that we passed a budget that invests $145 million for locally funded homelessness assistance, including a nearly $23 million down payment on the first year to implement our strategic plan.”
The Mayor also pointed out that there was more to be done to reach our collective goals:
“These investments are just a down payment. We have a long road ahead, but we’re committed… I understand these are bold goals – and there are people who doubt we can do it. But we owe it to our community to aim high. And we owe it to them to achieve high. We are making the investments – and taking the steps – here in our nation’s capital to show that it’s possible.”
“Take a deep breath.”
How many times have we heard, or made, that suggestion? Doctors say it when they are checking our wellness. Nature lovers say it when they want us to appreciate the fresh air of the great outdoors. We say it to ourselves when facing a particularly challenging situation, or couple it with “and count to ten” when we need to keep our tempers in check.
For asthma sufferers, taking a deep breath is no simple task. While so many of us take breathing deeply for granted, those who endure asthma cannot. Each deep breath is a precious commodity, nurtured by maintaining an environment that keeps asthma triggers in check. Unfortunately, homeless asthma sufferers don’t have much control over their environments. They have to go where the shelters are, or they get no shelter at all.
The following is Legal Clinic testimony delivered by Amber Harding on Friday, April 29th before the DC Council’s Committee of the Whole at its Budget Oversight Hearing for FY17. The Legal Clinic’s budgest testimony before the DC Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services and Committee on Housing and Community Development can be found here and here, respectively.
It is a rainy morning in November, a cold front is moving in, and we will probably have our first below freezing night in the next few days. In Foggy Bottom, Mayor Bowser has instructed the police, public works and her human services agencies to displace dozens of homeless people who have clustered together tents to form a small community. This is just the first encampment—she has resolved to shut down every encampment in DC. She has not committed to making sure each of its residents has somewhere safe to go before their homes and communities are lost.