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 292 individuals and 16 deaths as of May 25. 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):
- ACLU of the District of Columbia
- Advocates for Justice and Education Inc.
- Amara Legal
- American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, DC Section
- Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network
- Black Swan Academy***
- Bread for the City
- Break the Cycle
- Casa Ruby*
- Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Children’s Law Center
- Community Family Life Services**
- Consumer Health Foundation
- DC Action for Children*
- DC Bar Pro Bono Program*
- DC for Democracy
- DC Environmental Network
- DC Fiscal Policy Institute
- DC Grassroots Planning Coalition**
- DC Hunger Solutions
- DC KinCare Alliance
- DC Tenants Rights Center*
- DC Voters for Animals**
- Disability Rights DC
- Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project
- Dupont East Civic Action Association (DECAA)
- Empower DC
- Equal Rights Center
- Everyone Home DC
- Fair Budget Coalition
- The Father McKenna Center*
- Friendship Place
- The Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color’s Interdependence, Survival, and Empowerment
- George Washington Family Justice Litigation Clinic
- Good Faith Communities Coalition
- Homeless Children’s Playtime Project
- Valerie Schneider, Howard University School of Law, Fair Housing Clinic
- Jewish Voice for Peace – DC Metro**
- Jews United for Justice
- Latino Economic Development Center*
- Law 4 Black Lives DC*
- Legal Aid Society of DC
- Legal Counsel for the Elderly
- Miriam’s Kitchen
- Mother’s Outreach Network
- NAACP DC Branch
- National Association of Consumer Advocates
- National Coalition for the Homeless*
- National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
- National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens
- Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC)
- ONE DC
- People for Fairness Coalition
- The Platform of Hope
- Positive Force DC*
- The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia
- Restaurant Opportunities Center DC
- RESULTS DC
- Rising for Justice
- Save Us Now Inc.
- Sierra Club DC Chapter**
- Sunrise DC
- Sunrise GW
- Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment (DC SAFE)*
- TENAC (D.C. Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition)*
- Tzedek DC
- URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity*
- Ward 3 Democrats
- Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
- Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
- 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