DC Women in Politics, a diverse women’s organization, seeks to promote progressive solutions to address the problems of homeless families currently housed in an overcrowded and socially degrading temporary facility – former DC General Hospital in Southeast Washington.
In keeping with DC Women in Politics objectives to identify issues and pressing problems facing women and their families, and to ensure that DC elected officials, particularly female Councilpersons, legislate and advocate for women who are politically vulnerable.
The homeless population has quadrupled since the recession and has increased because of the unemployment problems of families particularly in Wards 5, 7 and 8. Currently there are 280 families, 600 children housed at DC General and another 140 homeless families placed in commercial hotels. Mayor Vincent Gray, in his 2015 budget seeks to quickly and without public input change the city law to more easily move people out of shelters. “The idea, city official said, is to more rapidly get homeless people into stable housing which will cost the city less and get families on their feet. Without the changes which would save 5.3 million, Gray warned that he would have to restrict the 3 year around homeless shelters to opening only in the winter months.” Washington Post, May 3, 2013.
The budget plan proposed by the Executive Branch would give families ”provisional” placement in shelters, requiring them to move into their own apartments, with a temporary rent subsidy, through a rapid rehousing program. It also mandates that families save 30% of whatever income they receive in an escrow account.
The Executive Branch alleges that the current system has created a culture of dependency. The document submitted to the Council states that there is a significant incentive for families to stay in shelter with no room or utility payments, free meals and public assistance. The new plan envisions shelters for emergency only, instead of a way of life.
Families protest the Mayor’s assumptions.
In spite of what the Mayor believes we are not a horde of lazy, unmotivated, greedy moochers, a family states “we are families, we are people, we are taxpayers and we don’t have as much money as you do.” Families further stated that living at DC General indefinitely is the last thing we want to do. A shelter, even a well run shelter is no place to raise children. If only people could see the number of depressed mothers and sick babies you would understand why we want to get out of there as quickly as possible.
The families want to leave the shelter and the Mayor wants them out rapidly. Then what is wrong with the provisions in the Mayor’s budget?
Advocates and Councilmembers are skeptical about the Mayor’s proposal because they believe that:
- The scarcity of affordable housing will jeopardize the planned success and will force families to live in housing which they eventually cannot afford.
- The city should consider progressive ways to manage public and HUD supported housing by leasing housing for families in a similar way that it leases office space for government programs.
- The provision for placing a portion of a family’s income in an escrow account appears to be acceptable by advocates and family members. However, the concept should be extended when families are placed in public housing or HUD funded programs, so that families can be required to place a third of their income to defray the cost of their rent by an automatic deduction prior to receiving their TANF checks.
- Fragmented and uncoordinated mental health, substance abuse and budgeting and credit repair services will thwart the program’s ability to help women address the problems which contributed to their homelessness.
- The recession and inadequate employment opportunities will continue to make it necessary for many families to need housing assistance. Until low income families are able to take advantage of the expanding job opportunities and city contracts and city employment opportunities they will remained trapped in poverty. Accompanying the Mayor’s rapid housing program must be an accelerated program to hire homeless parents modeled after the programs during the Roosevelt Administration.
- Expeditiously the City must expand the daycare program for children under the ages of 3. It also needs to provide low cost daycare for working mothers and the marginally employed.
In keeping with the DC Women in Politics mandate to engage women elected officials and advocating for those without an adequate voice, it urges Councilpersons Yvette Alexander, Anita Bonds, Muriel Bowser, and Mary Cheh to champion the cause of homeless women and their families and to use the budget process to address the housing of families at DC General.
DC Women in Politics urges the need for “liberal members and socially conservative members to come together to carve out a solution that does not place blame on families but recognizes the structural and personal problems that have contributed to their homelessness.
DC Women in Politics believes that the elimination of the warehousing of homeless children is of urgent importance to all women and urges women’s groups to register their concern with their Councilmember.