Witnesses speaking at hearing
Angela Harvey

Proposed changes to the city’s Homeless Services Reform Act have advocates for the poor and homeless deeply divided.
That became very clear as dozens of speakers took the microphone at a June 3 hearing.
Some said measures such as requiring homeless families to save money in an escrow account while they are in the shelter will help them get back on their feet. Others dismissed the amendments as a terrible idea.
Ward 1 resident Valerie Williams clearly fell into that second category.
“I wonder how do you sleep at night when families sleep on the street or in shelters packed overtop on each other?” she asked city officials.
“You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and pull it out six and say its helping him.”
Others had good things to say about the savings plan for participants in some city homeless programs.
“I support the escrow because I have seen it work in other programs,” said Bessie Swann, executive director of Wheeler Creek Community Development Corporation (WCCDC), a nonprofit organization serving low-income residents through the development of social, economic and housing opportunities. “I urge you to pass these amendments quickly.”
Glen Rother representing the Coalition for the Homeless said he agreed. His organization already has a voluntary savings plan.
Kevin Thompson, who is the associate pastor of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart and represents the Good Faith Communities Coalition, said he was against the amendments, noting that all persons are children of God and must be protected.
Others expressed concerns about a provision that they said would allow the city to terminate people from housing programs if they are incarcerated or institutionalized.
Cynthia Mewborn, a vendor for Street Sense, said “Persons who are institutionalized or incarcerated should not be terminated.”
Obediah Black, who is a resident of Adam’s Place Shelter in Ward 5 agreed.
“I don’t think one should be penalized for a two month absence”. He called on government to make big development firms, “pay an escrow”.
“What we need is affordable housing and living wage jobs to improve the city,” Black said.
“What we need is affordable housing and living wage jobs to improve the city.”
Rosemary Akinmboni spoke against another amendment that would deny shelter to families who are determined to have other alternatives, such as relatives to turn to.
She described being turned away from a shelter and being labeled a lower “priority two,” because of the presence of family in the area.
“I did everything on my part,. she said. Near tears, she said she had sought help to no avail.
“I need somewhere stable so I can get schooling. I would reach out to these people to try to get help and they say they can’t and just laugh at you. I’m still one foot in and one foot out of the door.”
D.C. Department of Human Services chief David Berns (left) listens to testimony from 4 of the 92 witnesses who signed up to speak at the June 3rd hearing.
PHOTO BY ANGELA HARVEY