John A. Wilson Building
credit: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

SHARC, for Shelter Housing and Respectful Change, a group of homeless advocates, is planning an event that will place immense pressure on the D.C. City Council and mayor to invest in solutions to homelessness — not just maintenance of the problem.

On Oct. 29, 2012, we will mobilize at least 1,000 of the city’s more than 7,000 homeless people. The event, “Occupy the DC Council: A Homeless and Poor People’s Town Hall Meeting at D.C. City Hall,” will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with set-up beginning at 8 a.m.

There will be food, music, speakers, a coat/clothing drive and much more. Throughout the day, people will be directed to enter the Wilson Building (City Hall) and make their pitch for what people need to get out of homelessness. We are reaching out to various faith-based groups, homeless service providers, non-profits, concerned citizens, etc., to contribute in any way that they can. We need partners in this new struggle, which reminds me of last year’s event.

In 2011, hundreds of homeless advocates and concerned citizens came out in force to demand that the D.C. City Council find money to fill the gap for a $20.5 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year 2012 homeless services budget. Without the funding, DC’s homeless community would only be guaranteed shelter for the five coldest months of the year. City officials found $17 million. For fiscal year 2013, the shortfall was $7 million. Again, the possibility of shelter closings has been presented, along with reductions in funding for feeding programs and transitional housing.

Organizers believe the city has the money to close the gap. It was determined in the last week of September that the D.C. government’s tax revenue was $140 million above the projection. Additionally, the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services (DYRS) and the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) have underspent their budgets by a combined $36 million.

SHARC, which formed in April 2011 to fight against the budget cuts, holds the position that we should demand that $7 million of this money be invested in homeless services. Even in the days when homeless services were “fully-funded,” they were woefully inadequate. The shortfall has threatened to downgrade such services from “bad” to “worse.” Merely reversing the shortfall would bring services back to “bad.” We demand “better.”