Homeless advocates cheered a judge’s ruling Friday that ordered the city to move homeless families from ad hoc shelters on recreation center floors to private rooms. Judge Robert S. Tignor of the D.C. Superior Court found that the city’s use of the rec centers in response to a growing population of homeless families did not meet the definition of private rooms required by the D.C. law that calls for mandatory shelter during extreme heat and cold. He issued a temporary restraining order, pending a further court hearing on March 21, and three of the plaintiff families were moved into motels on Friday night. (A fourth family that was part of the suit had already been placed at the shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital.)
But the relief for the rec center families, who complained of poor sleeping conditions there, didn’t last long. On Saturday, as temperatures rose, the city lifted its hypothermia alert, meaning it was no longer required to shelter homeless families. And so the families at the motels were asked to check out and fend for themselves.
“The city will continue to provide for the safety of children and families during hypothermia alerts using the resources available,” David Berns, the director of the Department of Human Services, says in a statement. “Although space at hotels for 3 families for a night was possible to arrange, the supply of hotel rooms in the District available for other homeless families has been exhausted. The continued use of the emergency shelters during hypothermia alerts remains the only available option for those not covered in the judges’ order.”
Typically, when the city places families into shelter at D.C. General or motels, they’re entitled to remain there until they find permanent housing. But the rec center families had to reapply each day for shelter, and were only able to receive it on hypothermic nights. It appears that those families’ daily, provisional placement continued to apply when they were moved to motels—-a discrepancy that I’m still waiting for DHS to explain.
Temperatures are expected to remain warm for the next two days before dropping below freezing on Wednesday night, so more placements at rec centers or motels are probable later this week. But when spring arrives, those families are likely to be on their own.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery