By Scott McNeilly, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Staff Attorney The Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) voted on Tuesday to approve the Winter Plan for 2010-2011. The Winter Plan describes how the District will implement the severe weather provisions of the Homeless Services Reform Act –how individuals and families can exercise their right to shelter on freezing nights and the steps the District will take to prevent weather-related deaths and injuries. The Plan was developed by the ICH’s Operations and Logistics Committee through a process that involved lots of meetings and hearings and consequently lots of community input. (I am a member of the ICH and was active, along with other Legal Clinic staff, in the Committee process). Although the Committee’s process was thoughtful and thorough, it ultimately has no power to compel the District government to provide the resources necessary to implement the plan. Primarily because of concern about whether the Plan is backed by adequate resources, I was the lone “No” vote on the question of whether or not the Plan should be adopted. There are many issues related to the Plan, but two major concerns. First, on October 15th, the DC government closed the La Casa low barrier shelter in Columbia Heights (displacing 90 residents) in order for the parcel of land to be developed by its private owner. The District has known for years that La Casa would eventually have to close, but government officials made no arrangements for an alternative site in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. Service providers who work with the men who have relied on La Casa are concerned that many of those men will not travel across town to the remaining shelters in northeast or southeast. Some may not go because of language or other cultural barriers. Some may not go because they rely on employment, health, mental health, food or other programs in the Columbia Heights area. The Winter Plan calls for a bus that will pick up men needing shelter from the corner of 16th Street and Park Road, NW and take them down to 9th and G Streets, NW, where other buses will take them out to the shelters in northeast and southeast. There will be buses back to 9th and G in the morning with another bus then returning men from there to Columbia Heights. It will likely be a very long ride and, for men who work or who are seeking day labor, it’s unlikely they will be able to get back to Columbia Heights before 9:00 am. They will face a choice that no one should have to face: keep a job, or have a safe, warm place to sleep at night. In order...
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