Mind the [Wealth] Gap!

Posted on Jun 1, 2011 in Action Alert, Budget Cuts, Homelessness, Poverty, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

Guest blog post by Stephanie Niedringhaus Each day, as I walk between Washington’s Union Station and my office, I see people who are either homeless or in difficult housing situations. I buy Street Sense from some, chat with others. Whether I am walking past or stopping to talk, I am always conscious of the U.S. Capitol just behind me. The contrast between what happens there and the circumstances of people on the street couldn’t be starker. Many of us know there is an enormous wealth gap in the U.S., but too few recognize this gap as a moral and political issue. Each day, super-wealthy individuals and corporations use their influence in Washington to increase their wealth and power. So where is the power of all the people I meet on the street? How have things gotten so out of balance in a democracy such as ours? First, a few statistics, taken directly from my organization’s wealth gap campaign website: The wealthiest 1% of our population own more than 90% of us combined. The wealthiest 10% of our population own more than three-fourths of our nation’s wealth. The median African American household has less than ten cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by the median white family. There is nothing inherently wrong with wealth. The problem comes when disparities grow so enormous that they create harm – and that is what we are seeing now. When I see limousines and motorcades driving by people selling Street Sense, I realize how far down the road of inequality we have traveled. On Capitol Hill right now, politicians go out of their way to push for budget cuts that decimate housing and other programs for people in need. Could we instead lower budget deficits by increasing taxes on the super-wealthy? House Speaker Boehner replies that tax increases are off the table. On May 19, my organization launched an education campaign – called “Mind the Gap!” – to address the wealth gap. Within the first 24 hours, we received far more visitors to our website than ever before so there is clearly pent-up anxiety about this issue. We invite you to check out our Mind the Gap! campaign website at http://www.networklobby.org/campaign/mind-the-gap and to speak out for economic justice. Guest blogger Stephanie Niedringhaus is the Communications Coordinator for NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice...

Read More

Our Great Volunteers

Posted on Aug 31, 2010 in Advocates, Homelessness, Housing, Law, People | 0 comments

By Nick Cassalbore, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Volunteer Coordinator In 2009, volunteers with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless assisted clients with over 740 legal issues. It is our pleasure to share some of their recent victories. The problem: A single mother and her four children are threatened with a termination notice by their transitional housing program. How we helped: WLCH volunteer secures housing and a lease for the client and her family. The problem: An elderly man is told by the Social Security Administration that he has been overpaid by $54,000. How we helped: WLCH volunteer discovers an error in the overpayment calculation and finds that the client is owed approximately $34,000 by SSA. The problem: A woman who lives in the basement of an abandoned house is about to be removed from the wait-list for public housing. How we helped: WLCH volunteer contacts the DC Housing Authority and obtains housing for the client. Without a doubt, our volunteers assist their clients in substantial and life-changing ways. What is it, then, that inspires our volunteers to do such good? Well, this is a difficult question is to answer. While we suspect that there are a number of motivations at work here, we also suspect that some motivations are shared by Legal Clinic volunteers and staff members alike. The need is apparent. Despite whether you’re a resident of the District or simply a visitor, it becomes quickly obvious that our community has failed to address properly the problem of homelessness. Approximately 16,000 people are homeless in Washington, DC over the course of a year, one of the highest rates in the country. And in recent times the problem is getting worse: on a single night in 2010, 6,539 persons in the city were homeless, a 5% increase over 2009. So, we should all agree that there is an obvious problem of homelessness in our community: thousands of people are homeless and thousands of others are dangerously close to homelessness. The right thing to do is apparent. As a community, our basic and initial response to the problem of homeless should be obvious: If people are without homes and so forced to sleep on the streets, then we must provide them safe shelter or housing. To put this point another way, we are obligated – in a clear and evident way – to assist the members of our community who are most in need. While the problem of homelessness persists, we must remain positive and hopeful in our struggle to build a most just and inclusive D.C. This is precisely the optimism and hope that our volunteers embody. Alive in our volunteers is a burning recognition of...

Read More

Hypothermia: Believe it or Not, it’s Just Around the Corner!

Posted on Aug 17, 2010 in Homelessness, Hypothermia, Shelter | 0 comments

By Patty Mullahy Fugere, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Executive Director As we trudge through these dog days of summer, it’s hard to imagine the mercury dropping below 80 for more than a twelve hour stretch at a time. Yet the calendar tells us that’s just around the corner…and so, too, do the preparations of DC’s Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) for hypothermia season 2010-2011. This past winter will forever be memorable on a number of accounts: record snowfall; record school and government closures; record sales of Bengay for muscles aching from endless shoveling. Yet some of the most vivid memories for us are more akin to Haiti after the earthquake or New Orleans after Katrina: family after family stuffed into common areas, bunking down in hallways, doubled up with strangers. Last winter, the official shelter census, day-in and day-out, showed a system at, and often stretched well beyond, capacity. The worst offenses were at DC General Hospital Hypothermia Shelter for Families, where at one point 200 families were sheltered in space meant to accommodate only 135. This is a situation no one cares to repeat in the months ahead. Under threat of litigation, DC’s Department of Human Services (DHS) eased the overcrowding at the end of last winter by moving families into transitional or permanent housing on an expedited basis. It has housed some additional families since that time, and plans to provide a stable home for even more parents and kids with new funding that should be available soon. It has been deeply involved in the ICH’s preparation of a Winter Plan for 2010 – 2011,  (Read Winter Plan Draft Here!) which by law must set forth the steps the local government will take and the resources it will make available to meet its obligation to shelter any homeless family or individual who seeks it during severe weather. What does the draft Plan propose for the upcoming frigid weather? The draft presently being circulated provides for a ten percent increase in the number of beds available for individual men and women and a thirty percent increase in the number of units available for families. At this point, though, it lacks specificity with regard to some of its most important elements. The ICH Operations and Logistics Committee will hold a public vetting of the plan on Thursday, August 19th (9:30 a.m. at N Street Village, 1333 N Street, NW), to get community input before finalizing the draft Winter Plan for presentation to the full ICH for approval in mid-September. All interested persons are welcome to attend. Does the draft Plan go far enough to avoid a repeat of the pain and hardship endured by far too many...

Read More

Can you help a family with no safe place to sleep tonight?

Posted on Jul 29, 2010 in Housing, Shelter | 0 comments

By Amber Harding, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Staff Attorney A mother walks the city in 100 degree heat with her 10 year old son and 2 year old daughter, desperately searching for help to get her family off the streets.  They have spent the last five weeks repeating this pattern since losing their housing; told daily that there is no room for them in shelter.  This mother lives in fear that she will lose custody of her children because she cannot provide a safe place for them to rest their heads. After being evicted from their home in mid-July, a single father and his two sons, ages 2 and 4, knock on the doors of former neighbors and strangers, desperate to stay out of the heat and off the streets.  The family spends each day calling the central intake site for families only to be told the same thing– the shelters are full and they will have to wait their turn on the list. For the first time in at least ten years, the District is not providing emergency shelter or housing to even the most vulnerable, highest priority families—those who are sleeping with their children on the street, in abusive settings, in cars, at bus stops, or in other dangerous settings.  We have been inundated with calls from families in truly desperate situations, and we have been unable to help most of them—there are more than two dozen families with no safe place to sleep on any given day.  Because there is no legal right to shelter in DC unless it is below 32 degrees outside, all WLCH has been able to do is plead for help for each individual family, and plead with the District government to come up with additional resources quickly to serve the families in greatest need. Since 2008, when the recession first hit, family homelessness has skyrocketed by 36.3% in the District.  Housing and shelter resources have not kept up with this increase.  Family emergency shelters were horribly overcrowded last winter, there was a brief respite from March to May due to some new housing resources, and then the shelters have been almost or completely full since May.  The city’s centralized intake center has been overwhelmed with applications for shelter, and families are turned away daily.  As of July 18, there were 543 families on the waiting list for emergency shelter. From what we’ve heard from officials at the Department of Human Services (DHS), they are trying their hardest to come up with a plan to meet this pressing need.  Currently, their plan (while not yet final or public) is to provide affordable housing to some families in the shelter system...

Read More