Four members of the D.C. Council are pressing Mayor Vince Gray to continue to provide shelter to all of the city’s homeless families currently in shelter, rather than turning them out when the weather gets warmer.
The District is required by law to provide shelter to all homeless families in need when the temperature drops below freezing or exceeds 95 degrees. Tonight will likely be the last night of extreme cold for the next week, and possibly until the fall. That means that the city’s homeless families who are not currently in shelter, as well as those who have been placed provisionally, could soon be left to sleep in the streets or in other public spaces. (It’s not clear how many families would fall into that category.)
On Monday, a judge ordered the city to stop using recreation centers as shelter for families, amid complaints of lack of privacy and other conditions that made sleeping difficult. Those families have been moved to hotel rooms. But because these families were placed provisionally and have to re-apply for shelter each day, they will, under the current system, be denied shelter as soon as so-called hypothermia conditions lift. (Families that have been placed at the city’s traditional shelters, as well as most who have been placed in hotels, are entitled to stay until they have found other housing.)
In a letter to Gray today, the four councilmembers urged Gray to continue to shelter those families as long as they have not secured other housing. The letter was signed by Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who chairs the Council’s Human Services committee, and his colleagues Vincent Orange, Marion Barry, and Anita Bonds.
“Because the weather is warming up, we are concerned your administration may turn away the former recreation center families once the weather is above 32 degrees,” the letter states. “Rather than helping families get back on their feet, this would prolong the trauma of homelessness, create long-term damage for children, and increase the chance that the city will face another crisis next winter when families will again have the right to shelter.”
Graham could not be reached for comment. The full text of the letter is below.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery