As it did last winter, the city is sheltering homeless families at the Days Inn on New York Avenue NE.
As it did last winter, the city is sheltering homeless families at the Days Inn on New York Avenue NE.

Last winter, a woman showed up at the Family Resource Center seeking a place to spend the night. The woman was 23 years old, homeless, and seven months pregnant, and she had spent the previous night on the corner of 7th and H streets NE. Now, the city had issued a hypothermia alert, meaning it was required by law to put up any homeless people in need.

But the woman wasn’t admitted to a shelter that night, or any other night of the winter, according to testimony today from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless’ Amber Harding before the D.C. Council today. Now, as we head into the winter again, many questions remain about the city’s capacity to house all its homeless residents.

Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who chairs the Committee on Human Services, convened today’s hearing to discuss these issues with homeless advocates and city officials. Given the shortage of shelter beds, the city has come to rely on putting homeless residents up in hotels at significant taxpayer expense. According to Graham, the Department of Human Services expects to spend up to $3.2 million on hotel beds for homeless residents this winter.

And hotels in the District may not suffice. As I reported last month, the city’s rapid rehousing program that was intended to place homeless families in their own housing on a temporary subsidy has fallen well short of its goals due to the shortage of affordable units into which to place them. As a result, DHS Director David Berns told me the city may have to start putting homeless residents in hotels outside the District, potentially at a greater cost.

We’re having an unseasonably warm week, but as temperatures start to drop, I’ll be keeping an eye on the city’s handling of this issue and its ability to keep its residents off the freezing streets at night. If you’re homeless this winter and are denied access to a shelter—-or if you know someone who is—-let me know.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery