Photo of the crowd and witness table in the DC Council hearing room.
Aaron Raubvogel

As the D.C. Council prepares to review the mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, a performance oversight hearing was held on March 1 to review the effectiveness of funds invested in the Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Human Services in the previous year. 

The hearing, which was led by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, a Democrat representing Ward 1 and the chairperson of the Committee on Human Services, began with witnesses testifying on behalf of the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness.  

Two people testified regarding the ICH, one public witness, Nechama Masliansky, a senior advocacy advisor from So Others Might Eat, and one governmental witness, Kristy Greenwalt, the director of the ICH.  

During her allotted 5 minutes before the council as a public witness, Masliansky suggested the ICH should get a larger staff so they are able to do more to combat homelessness in D.C. She also suggested doubling each family’s reward from the Rapid Rehousing program in the FY-2020 budget. 

Greenwalt was on the stand for over an hour, like many agency representatives during the performance oversight process. She talked about how the Homeward D.C. Strategic plan is succeeding in reducing homeless in the District, citing a 38 percent reduction in family homelessness over the past two years. In 2018, 2,500 families were provided with an emergency housing stipend to avoid shelter stay and an additional 1,300 families left the shelter system for good, Greenwalt said. 

She also testified that although 4,800 single adults have overcome homelessness, the annual point-in-time count of the local homeless population has “remained flat.” In order to provide shelter to this stagnant number of single adults, money for the redevelopment of the 801 East Men’s Shelter was included in the fiscal year 2019 budget.  

Following several rounds of questions from Nadeau, At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayvon White, Greenwalt left the witness table and testimony began on behalf of the D.C. Department of Human Services. 

More than 40 individuals signed up to add their experience with DHS to the public record. They testified on a multitude of issues, but the most common topics brought up were the need for more housing and reported mistreatment at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, where all families must apply to receive shelter and other assistance.  

At least three witnesses testified that the Virginia Williams staff refused to help them and their families because of lack of proper documentation and/or identification. People also said Virginia Williams has a lack of empathy for the people they are providing services to. One woman testified that she and her son were turned away because “he didn’t look disabled enough.”  

Several people, including a large contingent from Miriam’s Kitchen, pressed the committee to include $35.5 million to end chronic homelessness. This figure was circulated in a Feb. 25 e-mail from The Way Home Campaign, saying “For $35.5 million, less than one half of one percent of DC’s overall budget, Mayor Bowser can provide housing to 1,140 individuals and 177 families experiencing chronic homelessness.” 

In her remarks to the D.C. Council, Rachel Schultz of Miriam’s Kitchen said, we need to “recognize our neighbors, the homeless, and make sure they have permanent supported housing.”