On April 24, the Legal Clinic sent this letter to Mayor Bowser, followed up by this statement, asking her Administration to quickly pivot to save lives of DC residents experiencing homelessness who are contracting COVID-19 at alarming rates. When a week went by with no response, but with numbers of cases rising precipitously, we asked individuals and organizations to join us in urging an immediate shift in DC’s approach. In just one week, 515 individuals and 55 organizations joined us in our plea, and we delivered the first round of signatures on Friday, May 8. On May 15, we delivered a second round of signatures– 572 individuals and 69 organizations– and requested a meeting with Wayne Turnage. On May 22, we delivered a third round– 650 individuals and 76 organizations.

Since we sent out our letter to the Mayor, the numbers of people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive and who have died have more than doubled, up to 308 individuals and 18 deaths as of June 14. There is still no universal testing. The only expansion of placements for persons who are homeless has been 84 additional spaces… in a congregate setting in one of the largest shelters in the country (Community for Creative Non-Violence). Another hotel for medically vulnerable people is open, but it still will not meet the need. While the Mayor’s failure so far to shift her Administration’s approach to better protect the health and lives of people experiencing homelessness has an irrevocable impact on the homeless community, it does not defeat us, nor does it wear away at our resolve.

We are heartened by your solidarity at this time of great need for the community. We want to thank each and every one of you for adding your name and your voice to this effort. We will continue to collect signatures, both individually and for organizations, and continue to deliver your names to the Mayor. We won’t stop there, of course. We will look to the courts or to our legislative branch for relief for our clients if the Mayor is not swayed to move voluntarily by this outpouring of community compassion and concern.

Here is the text of the petition:

Dear Mayor Bowser:

 Our community is working together to flatten the curve by practicing social distancing and, for those who are able, staying home. However, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating and highlighting the already existing racial and economic disparities in the District. DC residents experiencing homelessness are particularly affected.

We urge you to take swift action to protect the health and lives of DC residents experiencing homelessness from COVID-19, including offering universal testing and non-congregate placements for all people living on the street or in congregate shelters. Just as critically, we urge you to dramatically expand safe, deeply affordable housing as an integral part of DC’s public health response and economic recovery. Now, more than ever, it is clear that housing is a vital public health intervention. 

We urge you to act with the highest degree of urgency and humanity.

Below you will find some of the comments individuals have made on the petition:

  • Moving from congregate shelters to private rooms needs to happen NOW to save lives!
  • It is a shame that we have to sign petitions to have those who have become homeless treated like the citizens they are. Please help those in need.
  • I work in DC and I am very concerned about the need for action to protect vulnerable homeless persons, many of whom have compromised health, from the coronavirus. This simply cannot wait.
  • After a friend of our family ended up on the streets this week, I was HORRIFIED to have every city emergency hotline and several shelters turn us away. How can our city have so many beds and nowhere for our brothers and sisters on the street to go? Unacceptable in the midst of a public health crisis. We can, we MUST, do better.
  • I know you are trying to do all you can to stop the virus, but getting homeless people off the streets and into empty rooms in dorms and hotels is important for all of us in stopping the virus. If homeless people continue to contract the virus, they not only give it to each other but to the rest of the population as well.
  • The city needs to make significant investments in secure housing for its residents outside of congregate care. As a city that has long touted “housing first” its time we invest in our city’s most vulnerable.
  • Affordable housing is absolutely critical, now and in recovery.

Here is a list of the organizations which have joined us in our plea (updated regularly):

  1. ACLU of the District of Columbia
  2. Advocates for Justice and Education Inc.
  3. Amara Legal
  4. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, DC Section
  5. Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network
  6. Ayuda**
  7. Black Swan Academy***
  8. Bread for the City
  9. Break the Cycle
  10. CARECEN*
  11. Casa Ruby*
  12. Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  13. Children’s Law Center
  14. Community Family Life Services**
  15. Consumer Health Foundation
  16. DC Action for Children*
  17. DC Bar Pro Bono Program*
  18. DC for Democracy
  19. DC Environmental Network
  20. DC Fiscal Policy Institute
  21. DC Grassroots Planning Coalition**
  22. DC Hunger Solutions
  23. DC KinCare Alliance
  24. DC Statehood Green Party***
  25. DC Tenants Rights Center*
  26. DC Voters for Animals**
  27. Disability Rights DC
  28. Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project
  29. Dupont East Civic Action Association (DECAA)
  30. Empower DC
  31. Equal Rights Center
  32. Everyone Home DC
  33. Fair Budget Coalition
  34. The Father McKenna Center*
  35. Friendship Place
  36. The Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color’s Interdependence, Survival, and Empowerment
  37. George Washington Family Justice Litigation Clinic
  38. Good Faith Communities Coalition
  39. HIPS**
  40. Homeless Children’s Playtime Project
  41. Valerie Schneider, Howard University School of Law, Fair Housing Clinic
  42. Jewish Voice for Peace – DC Metro**
  43. Jews United for Justice
  44. Latino Economic Development Center*
  45. Law 4 Black Lives DC*
  46. Legal Aid Society of DC
  47. Legal Counsel for the Elderly
  48. LinkUp
  49. Miriam’s Kitchen
  50. Mother’s Outreach Network
  51. NAACP DC Branch
  52. National Association of Consumer Advocates
  53. National Coalition for the Homeless*
  54. National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
  55. National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens
  56. Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC)
  57. ONE DC
  58. People for Fairness Coalition
  59. The Platform of Hope
  60. Positive Force DC*
  61. The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia
  62. Rahlowtisity
  63. Restaurant Opportunities Center DC
  65. Rising for Justice
  66. Save Us Now Inc.
  67. Sierra Club DC Chapter**
  68. SOME
  69. Sunrise DC
  70. Sunrise GW
  71. Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment (DC SAFE)*
  72. TENAC (D.C. Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition)*
  73. Tzedek DC
  74. URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity*
  75. Ward 3 Democrats
  76. Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
  77. Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
  78. We Are Family Senior Outreach Network*


*Joined since first delivery of the petition on 5/8/20

**Joined since second delivery of the petition on 5/15/20

***Joined since third delivery of the petition on 5/22/20