Keep the Door Open for DC’s Homeless Families

Posted on Dec 1, 2016 in 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. Contact information for your councilmembers can be found here. November 30, 2016 Dear Councilmembers, Last month, Mayor Bowser introduced the HSRA Modernization Act of 2016, a bill that makes significant changes to the primary law governing our homeless services systems. We write as a group of concerned service providers and advocates to urge you to oppose the introduction of this measure as emergency legislation this session. We believe that we share goals with the Administration of 1) making sure that every person who has no safe place to sleep at night is served, no matter the weather; 2) protecting the legal and human rights of people experiencing homelessness; and 3) having a system that efficiently and effectively meets the needs of such people. We believe, however that this Bill, in its current form, does not meet these intended goals. Additionally, because a hearing has not yet been scheduled, affected community members have not yet had an opportunity to offer their feedback on ways to improve the legislation. We believe it would be premature and risk harming extremely vulnerable DC residents to pass this Bill as emergency, particularly right as hypothermia season begins. As a group, we have been attempting to work with DHS on this legislation for several months, including having two meetings with them and providing a letter highlighting some specific concerns, questions, and alternative suggestions to meet their goals. We only learned this week that Mayor Bowser is advocating for this as emergency legislation in spite of assurances from DHS that this Bill would have a hearing and that the agency would work with us to redraft parts of the Bill. We have requested information from DHS, some of which was provided and some of which was not, to better understand why they believe all of these provisions are necessary. We have also made recommendations for how DHS can accomplish its goals in the short term while we are in the process of determining if legislation is in fact...

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A Step Toward Ending Discrimination Against Housing Applicants with Criminal Records

Posted on Jul 18, 2016 in Advocates, Clients, Criminalization, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Justice, Law, People, Poverty, Uncategorized | 2 comments

On July 11th, the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary held a public hearing on Bill 21-0706, the “Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016 (the “Bill”).” Introduced by Councilmembers McDuffie and Bonds in April of this year and cosponsored by 10 members, the Bill aims to fight discrimination against housing applicants with criminal records. In particular, it aims to preclude housing providers from requiring applicants to disclose their criminal history before a conditional offer has been made and it limits the types of accusations and convictions that can be used to deny housing to an applicant. The Bill is an extension of the “Fair Criminal Record Screening Act of 2014” (also known as “Ban the Box”) which restricts the ability of employers to inquire about and use criminal records to deny applicants employment opportunities. For so many, having a criminal history poses a substantial barrier in obtaining housing, often regardless of the type of offense, the amount of time that has passed since the conviction, or even whether an individual was ultimately convicted. That criminal history can be used to deny housing to an individual perpetuates the damaging racial and socioeconomic discrimination so deeply rooted in our criminal justice system. At the hearing, a number of witnesses presented heartbreaking accounts of the hardships they experienced in seeking housing upon reentry. One woman shared that after being arrested for defending herself, she was turned away from temporary housing before the case had even gone to court. Another woman discussed relapsing after being repeatedly denied housing due to her criminal record and, despite her determined efforts to recover from her addiction and find housing, revealed that she is still homeless today. We have heard countless stories from our own clients’ frustrating application denials. One of our clients could not find someone to rent to her because of a 20-year-old solicitation conviction. Since the conviction, she had raised a family and developed a disability. Unable to find housing, she died in a homeless shelter. Like several of the other advocates testifying, we presented recommendations to further strengthen the Bill in its efforts to confront this pervasive issue. Specifically, we encourage the DC Council to expand the Bill to also cover considerations of rental and credit history, which present comparable discriminatory issues and are often used as a proxy for criminal screenings. In addition, we call for the Bill’s language to be tightened to better adhere to the federal guidance on fair housing compliance, for example, by limiting the time period and types of offenses that can be considered. Another key amendment to the Bill would require landlords to notify tenants of the reason for their denial and would provide stronger...

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DC Budget: The Most Critical Statement of Our Priorities as a Community

Posted on May 2, 2016 in Advocates, Budget Cuts, Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Hypothermia, Justice, Law, People, Poverty, Shelter, Uncategorized, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

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. 

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Legal Clinic Supports Plan to Close DC General But Opposes Ward 5 Site

Posted on Mar 24, 2016 in Clients, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Justice, Shelter, Uncategorized | 1 comment

On March 17th, the DC Council held a public hearing on bill 21-620, Homeward DC Omnibus Approval of Facilities Plan for Short-Term Housing for Persons Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2016, better known as Mayor Bowser’s Plan to Close DC General Family Shelter. Eighty-six witnesses, in addition to the Bowser Administration, testified about the plan. That testimony can be found here. There was broad agreement that DC General is not an appopriate site for sheltering families, and most witnesses supported, at least in theory, the idea of opening smaller shelters in neighborhoods around the city. Disagreement comes over the details of the plan, including the cost and the specific locations. The Legal Clinic supports Mayor Bowser’s efforts, except for the Ward 5 location. Because of the environmental hazards associated with that site, we join with many of our colleagues in the advocacy community, along with Ward 5 neighbors, who oppose the site out of concern for the safety and well-being of the families who would be sheltered there. Further detail is provided in the testimony that Legal Clinic attorney Amber Harding presented at last week’s hearing, which is set out below.

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