D.C in winter
Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

An Aug. 14 public meeting at the Shaw Library allowed scrutiny of the city’s Winter Plan to protect and serve the homeless community during the 2017-18 hypothermia season. Extra resources outlined in the plan will be available from Nov. 1 to March 31.

Of the six deaths due to hypothermia in FY2016, two people were confirmed to have been homeless.

The District is required by law to provide shelter to anyone in need when the temperature, including wind chill, dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Since 2015, city government has voluntarily implemented a policy to activate these resources whenever the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit if there is a 50 percent or greater chance of precipitation.

“I think it has saved lives,” a Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless attorney said of the precipitation policy.

City government uses the number of people that accessed resources at the height of the previous winter to inform the new plan.

Following capacity shortfalls, the Department of Human Services has already added additional emergency beds for women at the agency’s Adam’s Place service center.

Due to legal shelter requirements for families, such as four walls and a door that locks, motel rooms have been commonly used as overflow shelter. For the past two fiscal years, DHS has been using motel rooms to provide family shelter year-round. After securing additional rooms for the winter, DHS intends to have approximately 650 rooms total to ensure enough space for families during hypothermia season. The plan also includes enough shelter and rec center overflow beds to accommodate 1,510 homeless adult men, 526 homeless adult women, 10 unaccompanied children and 43 youth ages 18-24.

The Aug.14 session was noted in the draft plan as being focused on consumer feedback. However, only a handful of people experiencing homelessness attended.

An attendee, advocate and Street Sense Vendor Reginald Black, proposed additional ways to improve services to the homeless community year round. He suggested adding a shelter transport route specifically for the LGBTQ community, from the downtown pickup/dropoff location to Casa Ruby and back.

Black also said that service providers should have more language resources beyond English and Spanish. A hotline is already available to help bridge language barriers. However, an employee of So Others Might Eat agreed with Black that it can be difficult to communicate to a non-English-speaking client that they must use your phone to speak with a translator.

Another ICH Emergency Response and Shelter Operations committee meeting is scheduled for Aug. 30 at 1 p.m. at 64 New York Ave. NE. The plan will remain open to input through the end of that meeting. To provide input ahead of the meeting, anyone interested may contact committee co-chair Jill Carmichael, [email protected] The plan will be considered final as of Sept. 1 and internally voted on later that month.