The DC Council’s Committee of the Whole held its FY2013 Budget Support Act Hearing on April 30th. Executive Director Patricia Mullahy Fugere testified for the Legal Clinic, challenging the Council to pass a budget that lives up to the ideals embraced when the Council declared DC to be a “Human Rights City” just three years ago. You can read her testimony here. The most eventful moment of the hearing was when over sixty men, women, and children (families who stay at DC General shelter) momentarily interrupted the proceedings and asked their city leaders to prioritize the welfare of homeless kids when the time comes to vote on a budget. The following press release from the Fair Budget Coalition includes details of the action:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Homeless Kids Lead Gospel Flash Mob at Budget Support Act Hearing
Urge City Council to Ensure That Every Child Has A Safe Place to Sleep.
WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2012 –In the wake of Mayor Vincent Gray’s proposed budget cuts to critical housing, homelessness, and family support services, sixty homeless children and parents interrupted the Budget Support Act hearing today and handed their city representatives hand-painted houses with the message “Kids Need Homes” written on them, as a young man sang a gospel song. The kids and their parents are among 279 families reported to be currently staying at the DC General family shelter. With the houses, they also delivered a message to their councilmembers: “Every child needs a safe place to sleep. That won’t happen without your vote.”
The families took over the hearing because unprecedented numbers of children are suffering from homelessness in the nation’s capital today, and no children are being placed in shelter right now because there is no space. One mother, Tiffany McLeod, expressed her frustration with the lack of a safety net for families experiencing homelessness: “I have two young children and we need housing. I don’t want to see anybody’s kids sleeping on the street.”
Despite the astronomical increase in the demand for shelter and affordable housing, the Mayor’s proposed budget for FY13 includes a $7 million gap in homeless services funding, no new investment in affordable housing programs, and a proposed $5.6 million cut in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). If funding is not restored, hundreds of children will be forced to sleep in unsafe places like parks and abandoned buildings and DC will have to close half of its men and women’s shelters next spring.
From 2008-2011, family homelessness increased by 46% in the District; nationally, it only increased by 1% in that same period. Between March of 2011 and March 2012, the number of families in DC’s hypothermia shelter and motels skyrocketed 138%. This increase correlates directly with the lack of affordable housing in the District, the second least affordable housing jurisdiction when compared to all states in the nation.
Housing ends homelessness, and it is far less expensive than shelters and motels. According to Amber W. Harding, a staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, “At a cost of only $4 million in 2013, DC could place 250 families in affordable housing, actually save money this year, and provide shelter to more families desperately in need. And it would be a far more humane approach to homelessness.”
Recently, Tyanna, a sixth grader who lives at DC General family shelter wrote an essay about being homeless: “Being homeless is a big challenge for me because my family and I do not have any money for us to get on the bus or to get a house. The only things we can afford are clothes and shoes. We have to get tokens from the school in order to get on the bus. When my brothers and sisters and I come home late we are not able to eat dinner. We have to eat Bowl of Noodles and other instant ramen noodles for dinner. This makes me feel sad because every time we are late we always have to eat noodles and it never fills us up.”
The families who came out to the hearing today will not rest until the DC Council passes a budget that responds to the crisis that they’re experiencing. “We want to stop the budget cuts. We’re doing everything we can,” Taujah Stroud stated, “We hope if we bring enough people down here, they’ll see that we actually do need housing.”
To continue advocating for a just and inclusive budget, on May 10th at 10am, the Fair Budget Coalition will host “A Day in the Strife,” at the John A. Wilson building, during which community members and advocates plan to meet at the Wilson Building and give City Council members a “tour” of life on the poverty line.
Contact: Janelle Treibitz, Campaign Organizer, Fair Budget Coalition, (646) 734-6705, firstname.lastname@example.org