A referral to Child Protective Services (“CPS”) was the last thing Mary Brown expected when she took the emotional step of walking through the doors of the city’s emergency shelter intake center for families and asking for help —for the first time in her life. While she continues to be told that there is no space for her family, more than 100 shelter units sit empty. Watch the following moving video of Ms. Brown speak at a press conference held by Councilmember Jim Graham (Ward 1) on September 17th.

Although Ms. Brown rarely missed a day in her nearly 35 years of working, she lost her job and her housing when she developed a serious heart condition last year. She and her two daughters, ages 8 and 9, were suddenly homeless and forced to turn to their government for help. That’s when things just got worse. The city’s emergency shelter intake center for families (the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center) would not place her in shelter or housing because the Mayor has forbidden them from placing families – despite more than 100 empty shelter units. Instead, the center staff referred Ms. Brown to CPS– the wing of the District’s Child and Family Services Administration (“CFSA”) responsible for investigating suspected cases of abuse and neglect – for the sole reason that her family was homeless and had no safe place to stay.

In the last two weeks, CPS has assisted Ms. Brown twice with short-term hotel stays, but has also threatened to remove Ms. Brown’s children as the “next step” if she cannot secure herself a safe place to stay. The same government that made a policy decision not to provide emergency shelter to families in these dire circumstances through one agency is threatening to separate children from their parents through another agency. This isn’t the first time this has happened. The Washington Post covered this draconian practice in June. The DC government didn’t cause the Brown family’s homelessness, of course, but it did choose to react to the Brown family not only with striking indifference—by forbidding access to a critical and currently underutilized safety net service—but also punitively—by making the threat of removal of children the focal point of the government’s response to family homelessness.

If you think the city should help families like Ms. Brown’s rather than threaten to break them up, click HERE to send a message to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Human Services. Tell them to make a different choice and house or shelter families like the Browns immediately.