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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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...

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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...

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