Last Thursday evening, Councilmember Jim Graham convened a public roundtable at the DC General family shelter to hear from families about their experiences both in the shelter and in getting access to shelter. Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Kenyan McDuffie, and Tommy Wells were also in attendance.

The number one message heard loud and clear by all in attendance was that DC needs more affordable housing. Families recounted losing their homes and being unable to find new housing they could afford. The majority of the parents who testified at the hearing were employed, but simply could not afford the rising cost of housing in the District. These parents shared harrowing stories of spending nights outside, sleeping in their cars, and spending months not knowing where they and their children would lay their heads down at night before they were placed in shelter.

The first parent to testify was Marcaus Scales, a single father who spent months sleeping from place to place and in his car before he finally got into shelter in November. Mr. Scales described being repeatedly turned away from the central intake site for families, with workers telling him that there were no resources for his family until the weather dropped below freezing. For months, his daughter stayed at her grandmother’s while he slept on the street and struggled each day to find assistance so he would not have to spend another day separated from her. Mr. Scales asked Councilmembers to help families like his afford housing in the District and described his recent experience with the shelter system as “humbling, but also frightening because I don’t see a way out.”

Other parents testified to similar difficulties in accessing the shelter system. Jessica Thomas and her partner spent two months sleeping in their car before they were admitted into shelter, their children sleeping inside a friend’s house nearby. Arleju Stephens testified that she and her children were living in a condemned house with a caved-in roof, and she was still denied shelter by intake workers who determined that the family had a safe place to stay despite those circumstances. She shared how her housing situation put her at risk of having her kids taken away. Her family was finally placed and has now been at DC General for 13 months because Ms. Stephens hasn’t been able to find housing that she can afford.

Families also testified about conditions at the shelter. In addition to complaints about the heat, plumbing, pests, power outages, and poor food quality, parents decried that their kids had nowhere to do homework, to play, and to simply be kids in a shelter where family members have no privacy and rules don’t allow socializing.

The recurring theme was that while the shelter is certainly better than being on the street, it is not an appropriate place for children to grow up. We absolutely agree.

Now is the time to take action.  Join The Fair Budget Coalition on Tuesday, March 5th at 3:30pm in Room 412 of the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue) for a press conference and forum to address “The State of the District’s Poverty: What’s the Story Behind 600 Kids at DC General?”

This event is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Marion Barry, Anita Bonds, Jim Graham, Kenyan McDuffie, and Tommy Wells and will feature an in-depth discussion on the struggles facing thousands of DC residents living in poverty and the smart investments DC can make to end this cycle of poverty.

Here are some other ways you can get involved. Together, we WILL end homelessness and poverty in the District.