Street Sense Interview: Council Member Adrian Fenty
Adrian Fenty, a life long resident of Washington D.C., is serving his second term as elected representative for Ward 4. He currently is Chairman of the Council’s Committee on Human Services, with oversight over the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Child and Family Services Administration, Department of Human Services, and Office of Aging.
Street Sense reporter Fiona Clem sat with Fenty in early April to talk about homelessness and housing issues in the District.
SS: Let’s start with your committee, Human Services. You formed a Public Oversight Roundtable this year. How is that going?
Council member Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4): It is going well. But I want to say that the lion’s share of our work is in front of us. Not only do we have to dig deep into figuring out how the agency is being managed, but also how it’s contracting out its work. We are going to have a big hearing about the restriction of the Department of Human Services and part of that restructuring is going to look at this Community Partnership where we contract out provisions of services to the homeless.
SS: Starting there, what bout the hypothermia season. At the beginning of hypothermia season there were some issues about not all the beds being in place, having logistical issues with getting people to New York Avenue, how did the hypothermia season go?
Fenty: It was a little bumpy. There were a number of things that happened anything from people not getting into shelter, to closing down of Randall, to a five-day notice to get people out of CCNV. So there’s been one thing after another.
But to be fair, and this is my first year as chair, I would say even though we have a long way to go; there were times when there was absolutely no idea where the beds were or what beds were available. That being said, we shouldn’t give the government a pass on providing shelter. Really, the homeless shelters need a lot of work, both structural work and pragmatic work. I mean we have a state of the art shelter at New York Avenue and in fact it really is a basic shelter.
SS: New York Avenue was supposed to be the first shelter to provide wraparound services, and this year a lot of those services weren’t really in place. Is that just because it was the first year?
Fenty: To be honest, I think it is a legitimate disagreement with the executive branch of government. I think they really believe that they are providing wrap-around services. No one else does.
SS: I suppose that part-time social services, providing social services three times a week, could be considered wrap-around services, right?
Fenty: But not to anyone looking at it objectively.
That’s supposed to be a Housing Assistance Center- that’s a pretty high bar. That’s much more than a homeless shelter. People are coming in and from the moment they get there you are trying to transition them out of there, and that’s clearly not happening.
SS: But it was also the first year of the program.
Fenty: That’s true. And I think that if the government had said it’s the first year, we have lots of kinks to work and right now it’s a c-minus at best, I think that would have been okay. But that’s not what they’ve been saying. They’ve been saying at least in public hearings that things are going very well there.
SS: Will there be a re-evaluation of services at New York Avenue for next season?
Fenty: Well, I don’t know about that. There should be for right now, because it’s a homeless shelter year-round.
SS: Understanding that more Housing Assistance Centers will come online, Gales, for instance, in the next two or three years, re-evaluating New York Avenue services is fair. I’m saying you just have to know if this is working, because when you get other Housing Assistance Centers online we have to know what works.
Fenty: I couldn’t agree with you more. And it’s more than fair. That’s exactly what you have to do.
SS: Speaking of Gales, what is the timeline now?
Fenty: We have an exact date in our responses. It’s not going to be finished by this hypothermia season as they promised. But I’m pretty sure that the date that they gave us is well in advance of the FY07 hypothermia season, so it should be ready by the fall of 2006.
SS: So is Franklin going to be closed?
Fenty: They say it’s going to stay open until Gales open or there is a temporary shelter. That was (DHS’s) response in our last meeting.
SS: You believe that it is necessary to have some sort of infrastructure downtown?
Fenty: No question. To be honest, you probably need more than Franklin or Gales, you probably need them both. But you certainly cannot have them both closed.
SS: Let’s talk about the 10-year plan that the mayor announced.
Fenty: It’s a commitment that by definition doesn’t have any accountability. You can’t make ten-year plans if you are elected to four-year terms.
SS: Is there anything coming up on the council agenda that would make some of the plan come to fruition?
Fenty: Well, here’s the thing. If you look at the plan in its essence, it basically is that you’re going to provide a continuum of care. They basically committed to doing in ten years what we should have done ten years ago. I’ve looked through some documents that established the community Partnership and it said that the Community Partnership would do exactly that, but it’s obvious that there is no continuum of care.
If the Community Partnership was supposed to be in charge of a continuum of care its very obvious that they’re not any more. They run the shelters but they’re not running any of the programs that are supposed to come in and supplement the shelters. DOES, child care, housing services, all those, are run by the Mayor, so the Community partnership doesn’t really have any control of the continuum of care.
You go into New York Avenue and there’s one social worker on duty for hundreds of people and that’s Community Partnership’s partner Catholic Charities. So at best they can say they don’t have the money in the budget to do so, but they can’t say that they have the job training, counseling, a housing counselor in there, whatever else is needed to move people out of homeless shelters; they just don’t have that. And that’s why we’re going to have this hearing and hold up the contract and say to Community Partnership that this is what you’re supposed to do, and why aren’t you doing it.
It just seems that we have a middle-man in there for no reason. We have Catholic Charites; why can’t the district government contract with Catholic Charities.
SS: How did the Homeless Services Reform Act hearing go on the 16th?
Fenty: We made a lot of progress and at the end, we got the commitment of DHS and the Mayor’s office that they’re not going to impede our progress. And that means that they’re going to back away from their claim that this is an entitlement. So we are currently working with a draft of the bill and we will mark it up in committee very soon. I talked with the CFO and he promised me that they’re going to revise the fiscal impact statement, and it will have minimal costs. So that’s good news for homeless residents and advocated. And we’ll get that out of committee within the next couple of weeks and then we’ll get the vote of the whole council.
SS: And it’s pretty well supported?
Fenty: Yes, it should be 13 out of 13.
SS: And the provision for the interagency council, would that take care of some of the oversight issues you were talking about with the Community Partnernship?
Fenty: Well, I subscribe to the theory that you can’t have too many eyes looking at something.
SS: What’s going to happen with the Housing Production Trust Fund this coming year?
Fenty: Okay. The Housing Production Trust Fund needs to remain [funded at] 15% of deed or recordation sales.
SS: Are we going to fight about it again this year?
Fenty: Absolutely. Now what they would say is that the 15% is committed to the Housing Production Trust Fund but they want to securitize some of it. But they already have plans for the securitized money so it’s very clear that it won’t go out open bid. And the vision behind [the Fund] is that you would take the entire 15% and bid it out to nonprofits that to very, very good work on housing.
SS: So we’ll fight but we’ll get it.
Fenty: Well, yeah. Well, this year we have three more votes than we had last year, which is a net six votes. We’re in much better shape. That’s why the rental housing bill [16-50] is where it is, because it’s a new day.