Remember that homeless bill that the New York Times editorial board slammed as inhumane? The one that every nonprofit in the District condemned? The residency-requirement bill that the city’s CFO stated would produce zero cost savings? Tomorrow, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells is going to put it up for a vote. Just in time for hypothermia season.
Today, Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray got a letter urging that he vote against the bill. The letter was signed by:
Ayuda, Bread for the City, Capital Area Food Bank, Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Covenant House Washington, DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, D.C. Hunger Solutions, DC Jobs Council, DC Women’s Agenda, District Alliance for Safe Housing, Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appleas Project, Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington, Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, LIFT-DC, Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care Inc., Miriam’s Kitchen, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Positive Force DC, Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, So Others Might Eat (SOME), Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment (SAFE) Inc., Thrive DC, University Legal Services, The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, We Are Family, Wider Opportunities for Women, the Women’s Collective, Women’s Committee of 100, Women Empowered Against Violence Inc., and two professors from Catholic University.
Wells may want to reach out to these folks if he wants to keep his progressive membership card. The letter and much more after the jump.
The basic issues with the bill involve the residency requirement for services and the legislation’s allowing for the possibility of more communal-style shelter. While the bill makes some exemptions (victims of domestic violence, for example), it still potentially puts families at risk. It also doesn’t make clear how victims of domestic violence or, say, human trafficking, would show proof). The bill will give homeless families a three-day grace period to prove they are District residents.
It is unclear what happens if they fail to cut through D.C.’s red tape in time (one of the ways a family can prove they are District residents: they can provide a lease). What is clear? District workers are going to be stuck hassling homeless families to show some I.D. And if they don’t show it, it’s going to fall on District workers to show those families the door.
The bill as written would also authorize the mayor to loosen regulations on family shelters. Currently, families can only stay in apartment-style shelter. The bill would allow the mayor to place them in non-apartment dwellings. But the bill calls for the alternative placement to be “private rooms.” There’s nothing in the bill that says how many families would be put in these private rooms. One family per room? Six? It’s unclear whether cramming families in say, D.C. General’s cafeteria would now be totally legal. In fact, the bill would basically legitimize D.C. General as a shelter when it was never meant to be one, when even Wells thinks its a dumping ground.
The letter to Gray states:
“Rather than taking this short-sighted approach, any concerns that non-residents may be taking away resources from DC residents should be resolved in a thoughtful, data-driven manner that brings regional partners to the table. Likewise, concerns about DC General being out of compliance with Homeless Services Reform Act (“HSRA”) standards for sheltering families should focus on developing a long-term plan to shelter all families in units that comply with these important standards and meet basic health and safety laws.”
The letter goes on to urge the D.C. council (via the Interagency Council on Homelessness) to actually investigate whether in fact non-residents are gaining access to District shelters, study the movements of homeless residents across state lines, and develop a long-term plan to move the city into compliance with the standards already set for housing homeless families.
And finally, in a fact sheet attached to the letter, the advocates state that so far there is zero proof that non-residents are actually utilizing city shelters. The only evidence provided to the city so far is that non-residents applied for shelter.
Amber Harding, an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless says all of the attention devoted to the bill takes away from the real issue: the fact that D.C. General is already at capacity.
“Our position is that this is at a time of a severe budget crisis, they are choosing to go forward with a law that will reduce life-saving services to residents while creating zero fiscal savings to the District,” Harding says. “Our concern is that people will not get outreach services, crisis intervention and emergency shelter while they are waiting to overcome bureaucratic hurdles to access emergency services.”