Last week, we told you about the dramatic increase in family and child homelessness in DC over the past four years, in particular over this past winter season, and the District’s ineffective and punitive current response to that crisis.  The Administration does not deny that its policy of not placing any new families in shelter until next winter puts DC children at grave risk.  But instead of alleviating that risk by providing the very services that applicants seek, it has chosen to respond to the need with a Child Protective Services (“CPS”) investigation for abuse and neglect of every family with no safe place to sleep.

Today, we ask you to support what we believe is the better solution to this crisis.

The Smart and Simple Solution: Housing Ends Homelessness

We agree with the District that children can be put at grave risk due to homelessness, but rather than conducting an abuse and neglect investigation on a parent for simply asking for help, the District should house them.  Not only is housing the more appropriate and non-punitive response to homelessness, it is also the most cost-effective. [1]

Despite what some might think, family homelessness is NOT an overwhelming problem that is impossible to solve. While the need is great, it can be met easily.  In fact, when the very specific cost savings involved are taken into account, housing 250 families starting June 1, 2012 would save the District money for the remainder of FY 2012 and would cost a maximum of $4 million in housing subsidies in FY 2013.

With just 250 affordable housing bridge subsidies for homeless families, the District could create a back door out of the family shelter system and serve far more families in need, with relatively little expense.  Moving 250 families out of DC General will create enough space at the family shelter to move all of the families currently in motels out of these expensive placements.  Moreover, DC will again[2] be able to serve families in unsafe situations year-round, eliminating the need for costly CPS investigations and the accompanying trauma to children and parents alike.  Lastly, DC will avoid the build-up in need it saw at the beginning of the winter last year.  This will reduce the number of motel stays needed next winter because the rate of families entering shelters will be more consistent and therefore manageable.

Mayor Gray “believe[s] that every DC resident deserves a decent, safe and affordable place to live.”  The Mayor has not matched dollars to his stated priorities, sadly, and his proposed FY13 budget actually reduces funding for affordable housing.

Now we must ask the DC Council to rectify that wrong by restoring the $7 million gap to homeless services for FY 2013 and devoting $4 million to long-term affordable housing for 250 homeless families. The Administration should begin housing homeless families NOW to make room at DC General for those with no safe place to go and to end its reliance on expensive hotel placements.  Let’s give hundreds of DC kids far better odds for a far better future.

Stay tuned for our Action Alert tomorrow where we’ll tell you how to raise your voice for homeless kids.

[1] Because a neglect finding cannot legally be based on homelessness or poverty alone, making CPS reports based on a parent’s inability to provide safe shelter despite their best efforts seems inappropriate.  DC Code Section 16-2301(9)(A)(ii) specifically states that the term “neglected child” does not include a child who is deprived as a result of “the lack of financial means of his or her parent, guardian or custodian.”

[2] Until Spring 2011, the District’s official policy was to place any family with no safe housing in shelter regardless of the temperature.