WLCH’s “Fact Sheet on Homelessness and Poverty”

Posted on Jan 17, 2012 in Homelessness, Housing, Poverty | 0 comments

Approximately 14 years ago, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless drafted for the first time a document which has since come to be known simply as “The Fact Sheet.” This document was originally entitled “Homelessness in D.C.—Some Basic Facts”, but eventually evolved into the “Fact Sheet On Homelessness and Poverty.” It was initially conceived of and created for use in a new training, called “Homelessness 101”, for D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). While that training is now a permanent part of MPD’s training curriculum, and the Fact Sheet is still an integral part of those education efforts, its use as a source of facts and statistics about poverty in the District has grown far beyond that original purpose. Whenever we get an inquiry from the media or other social or legal services organizations asking for information about homelessness, or need some statistics to back up our advocacy efforts, the first place most of us look is to the latest version of the Fact Sheet. This document, which is updated on a regular basis because of the constantly changing nature of the information we cite, is more than mere facts and figures, however. It is a constant reminder to us, and to the people with whom we collaborate, about the entrenched nature of poverty in the District of Columbia. It is also damning evidence of just how little things have changed over the years in terms of the factors that contribute to the high rate of homelessness in Washington, D.C. The Fact Sheet consists of 4 sections: “Who is Homeless?”; “Why Are So Many Homeless?”; “Is There Enough Shelter?”; and “Is There Enough Housing?”, categories which attempt to get to the heart of both the causes and the face of homelessness in the District. One of the most telling statistics included in the Fact Sheet is the number of people who are homeless in D.C. over the course of a year, as well as the average number of homeless individuals in the city on any given night. The latter statistic is gleaned from a once a year “count” of homeless persons in the District every January, known as the “Point in Time” survey. For 2011, this number was 6,546 individuals, a figure which has actually decreased since the Fact Sheet was first created, but has not budged by more than a few hundred for the past several years. The more alarming statistic is the number of people who access the homeless services system over the course of a given year, which has stubbornly remained at approximately 16,000 people since the Fact Sheet was first created in 1998. That is close to 3% of the entire population of Washington, D.C., which is one of the highest...

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Oversight Roundtable on Winter Plan

Posted on Oct 20, 2011 in Homelessness, Hypothermia | 1 comment

Today, starting at 2pm, the District of Columbia Council’s Committee on Human Services is conducting a roundtable to discuss the Department of Human Services’ plan to protect the lives of people who are homeless this winter. Below is the testimony that will be delivered by Legal Clinic Staff Attorney Amber W. Harding. Council of the District of Columbia Committee of Human Services Hypothermia Roundtable Thursday, October 20, 2011 Testimony of Amber W. Harding, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless It has long been the stated policy and law of DC to provide emergency shelter to each and every person experiencing homelessness when the temperature outside falls below freezing. As the Winter Plan reminds us, exposure to wet and cold conditions can cause hypothermia, which is a life-threatening condition. Unfortunately, for far too many years, DC has failed to administer this right to shelter equally and justly when it comes to DC families, placing their lives at risk and violating their constitutional and statutory rights. Today I am going to summarize some of the patterns we saw last year, patterns that we believe will persist unless DHS takes strong preventative steps. These patterns are based on cases our office handled last year, and I can provide specifics if necessary. I also have 7 specific recommendations for DHS. For individuals, the Winter Plan presumes that there will be nights that all the regular beds will be filled. DC is prepared to bring overflow beds online as needed. There is no overflow commitment in the Plan for families, despite the fact that DC General fills up every year. While DHS has verbally committed to place families in hotels or motels if DC General fills up, it has not shared how quickly the hotels will be brought online or how food, case management and transportation will be provided to these families. DC endeavors to reach out to every individual staying on the street to make sure he is encouraged (or even coerced) to come into shelter when the temperature dips below 32. There are outreach agencies tasked with finding those folks and getting them in, and there is a public education campaign encouraging DC residents to call the Hypothermia Hotline to pick up any adults they see needing shelter. No similar outreach or public education campaign exists for families—not even through the centralized intake center, much less through the schools their children may attend or hospitals where they may be found sleeping in the lobbies. Families that seek shelter are often discouraged from applying and entering shelter at every step along the way. This occurs despite the fact that families are staying in many inappropriate or life-threatening environments—in their cars, at bus stops,...

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Homeless Mom Given Tough Choice: Leave DC or Place Children in Foster Care

Posted on Feb 15, 2011 in DC Budget, Homelessness, Housing, Hypothermia, Law, Shelter | 3 comments

By Marta Beresin, Staff Attorney Last week a mother of three was given an ultimatum by the DC Child and Family Services Administration:  get on a Greyhound bus for a shelter placement in another state or we’ll place your children in foster care.  The alleged neglect or abuse?  Being financially unable to afford to provide a home for her children.   As a matter of law, the District had no basis for making such a threat.  It is firmly established that parents have a Constitutional right to care for their children and that a parent’s inability to provide for a child due to circumstances of poverty is not a basis for removing a child. What’s sadly ironic is that this mother had been to the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center (“FRC”), the central intake site for homeless families in need of shelter repeatedly during the prior two weeks, pleading for the very thing that the District claimed she was neglectfully failing to provide.  Each time she had been told – as many others have been this winter – that there was no room for her and her children at DC General, the filled-to-capacity (with 152 families as of 2/10/11) winter shelter for families in the District. In part, this mother’s odyssey may have been due to action the DC Council took in December, when 9 members of the Council passed the Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2010 (“HSRA Amendment”).  The bill establishes, for the first time, strict residency verification requirements for families applying for life-saving hypothermia shelter.  While the HSRA Amendment has yet to become law, some of its harshest consequences are already being visited on families.  The attempt to force the aforementioned mother to move to another state for shelter for her family was born out of the misimpression that she was not a District resident.  Nobody at the FRC had checked her ID (which was a DC driver’s license) or her other documents showing existing ties to the District Unfortunately, the denial of shelter to families has been commonplace this winter, even on days when freezing temperatures trigger the right to shelter.  Residency has been but one illegal barrier placed in the way of families accessing shelter:  FRC staff have also demanded custody orders and verifiable proof that the family is in an unsafe place or sleeping outside, the absence of which cannot be grounds for denying shelter placement under current law. The myriad barriers to families accessing shelter have made clear that, more than the recently passed residency bill, shelter denials are the result of poor planning by the Department of Human Services and the Interagency Council on Homelessness (“ICH”).  As advocates on the ICH had...

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Voting “No”…

Posted on Oct 28, 2010 in Homelessness, Hypothermia | 0 comments

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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Alert: Vote on Winter Plan for Hypothermia Season Will Be On 10/26

Posted on Oct 25, 2010 in Homelessness, Hypothermia | 0 comments

The DC Interagency Council on Homelessness is holding a special meeting on Tuesday, October 26th at 9:30am, to vote on the Winter Plan for the upcoming hypothermia season. The meeting will be held at MPD Regional Operations Command (ROC) 801 Shepherd St NW. With regard to meeting the needs of families this winter, the current version of the Plan relies upon outplacing families into housing at a quick enough pace to free up capacity in the shelters. Already the District has been unable to keep up the anticipated pace, and there is no back-up plan identified. We urge concerned community members to attend the ICH...

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