Giving the Community a Voice
The poor and the homeless need more of a voice in the city decisions that impact their lives. Two recent events at the Wilson Building served as reminders.
One was the Oct 8 meeting of the CCNV Task Force, charged with making recommendations to the mayor and city council for the future use of the building that now houses the historic Federal City Shelter, located at 425 2nd Street NW.
It was back in July that DC City Council member Jim Graham introduced the legislation that led to the formation of the task force. As plans for the task force evolved, the homeless advocates of SHARC (for Shelter Housing and Respectful Change) sent an open letter to the mayor and council stressing their position that the homeless community be given an important role in planning for the future of the shelter.
When the task force convened its first meeting, SHARC Chairman Eric Sheptock, a shelter resident, was seated, but only as an ex-officio member. While Sheptock is there to represent the entire homeless community, he has not been given a vote on the full task force. He is only allowed to vote as the member of a subcommittee that is being established by the taskforce as part of its ongoing dialogue about the future of CCNV.
The purpose of that first meeting was to flesh out out procedures for the task force, which has six months to prepare a written report for city officials. One suggestion offered by Sheptock was that the task force should hold its next meeting at CCNV. That first task force meeting was a positive step, but there is much more work to be done. And hopefully in the future, the residents of the shelter will be given a real vote on the decisions that will have a huge impact on their lives.
The second event that brought to mind the importance of getting insights from the poor and homeless was an Oct 9 forum held to discuss the future of the city’s Interim Disability Assistance Program (IDA.)
The program offers cash assistance – about $9 a day- to help disabled people survive while they undergo the lengthy process of qualifying for federal Supplemental Security Income.
Being disabled is hard enough but when you combine a disability with poverty and even homelessness, the fight gets tougher. While the social security administration’s process could take years for a disabled person to complete, IDA can help sustain that person’s life.
At the forum, Ward 3 City Council member Mary Cheh, as well as lawyers and service providers talked about the need to find ways to make it easier and faster for people to get SSI benefits. They also spoke about the importance of preserving IDA.
But some of the most powerful comments came from IDA recipients themselves.
One who offered personal testimony was Earl Speaks who was born here in Washington. He said IDA is a lifeline to those that are sick and are awaiting benefits.
“You wouldn’t believe how 270 dollars a month opened the door for me,” he said.
Also present was Brian Powell who reminded listeners that the experience that he went through with SSI could happen to anyone.
“I’m convinced now that they are either fickle or set up to where you just quit,” he said.
IDA seldom seems to have enough funding. But members of the poor and homeless community are saying that they need this program. City officials should just listen.