Budget Season has Advocates in High Gear
There is an old saying that a woman’s work is never done.
The same can be said for local advocates for the poor and homeless, particularly at the height of the District’s budget season.
Monday, May 13 marked a marathon push, starting with the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) advocacy day. The CNHED advocates mustered in the District’s Wilson building before breaking up into smaller groups and visiting the offices of all the members of the city council to lobby for spending on programs such as the Housing Production Trust Fund, local rent supplements and permanent supportive housing.
Advocates who visited the offices of Councilmembers Jack Evans and Muriel Bowser had brief conversations with the council members themselves. City Council Chair Phil Mendelson was in a meeting but the group who visited his office got to meet with Joe Wolf, who works for the office of the city budget director.
The advocates used their time with the officials to stress the urgency of getting chronically homeless people housed. Parliamentarian for the People for Fairness Coalition, Richard Embden spoke about his own experience as a person who is chronically homeless. He talked about how hard it is for homeless people to structure their days around a normal routine.
“Your whole day is oriented by getting a meal and a bed,” Embden said.
Drawing upon her own experiences with homelessness, Jennifer Mclaughlin said if it weren’t for a rapid-rehousing effort by the city “I would have been back on the streets.”
And that was just Monday. Clearly this was going to be a tiring week for city officials.
On Tuesday, the Washington Interfaith Network, along with groups like Miriam’s Kitchen, called and sent emails to the city council. On Wednesday, the Fair Budget Coalition rallied for issues that affect low-income and homeless individuals. They brought a homemade house created by children living at the city’s family shelter at DC General Hospital, as well as apples and bananas to deliver to the city council. Councilmember Jim Graham and the chair, Phil Mendelson came out to address members of the coalition, buoying their spirits with the feeling they were being heard. A group also met with Mendelson’s staff to discuss the importance of spending on housing programs.
“I would like to see you all dedicate money to programs for seniors,” advocate Roosevelt George said. “The shelter is really hard on us.”
Then advocate Eric Sheptock launched into his pitch for younger homeless people.
“We need to get the working-aged into housing.”
A woman named Twildate added: “We’re asking for you to be fair.”
As the week neared its end, on Thursday May 16, the grassroots group SHARC (Shelter Housing and Respectful Change) held a rally in support of the many efforts to help those who are homeless, stressing again the importance of investing in housing programs that help both single people and families leave homelessness behind.
Then SHARC members visited each city council member’s office as well as the office of city Mayor Vincent Gray to drop off lists of the demands the advocates had been pushing since Monday.
For the most part, those who are in poverty seem to have had a voice all this week, but the fight continues. Although the amendments to the Homeless Services Reform Act were pulled from the budget, the council still plans to discuss them at a hearing on June 3.
The advocates ended the week hopeful that their work might have had a substantial impact in the city’s policy in the coming weeks.