With a new budget full of holes for the chronically homeless to fall through, members of our homeless community must continue to endure many challenges despite trying their best to get by. This is not to speak of the young people aging out of foster care and entering into shelter care, senior citizens, the mentally ill and young mothers. Some struggling residents may get help from rapid rehousing this year, but others will wait in vain.
As in years past, passionate advocates from all over the city fought for money to be allocated to homeless services in the District budget for Fiscal Year 2015.
May the Lord keep us for standing up for what is right, so people don’t have to live in a city where they can be economically discriminated against or can’t find housing. Poor people have been working and living all their lives in this city to make DC their home.
Along with a group of fellow advocates including Reginald Black, I went to a council member’s office on a recent lobby day advocacy event. Our group included twelve women, all of whom are from different walks of life. They spoke about what homeless people need in order to live in Washington, DC with some dignity and respect. The women articulated their ideas as well as their proposed solutions for what would be fair funding for homeless services, especially in a city that’s not hunting for cash.
The council member’s staff person listened, then told us that most homeless people are not from the area. These are the kind of talking points officials use to justify not putting enough money in the budget to prevent people living in dangerous conditions and dying on the streets. They use these words to imply homelessness is not the city’s problem while seniors live out their lives in shelters.
As a homeless advocate and having been homeless myself, I would say only about 30 percent of those in low barrier shelters are people who are not lifelong or long-time DC residents.
There are always nine or 10 council members who talk the good talk, but when it comes time for a vote, the poor and the homeless are forgotten.
We can’t continue to have council members and mayors who really offer no solutions, not one policy, no viable plan that would begin to address the housing crisis most poor and homeless residents find themselves in this election year. We need to hold all candidates accountable to have a plan that all or most DC residents can agree on.
DC residents have said the number one thing the District government needs to address is the urgent need for affordable housing. Here are some solutions the city council and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions should consider.
One would be to look at “right to housing” initiatives such as the one fourth rule. Qualifying individuals pay one quarter of their income for affordable housing with local and federal subsidies and participating landlords helping to make up the difference.
As the twelve ladies at the lobbying event stressed, programs such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and LRSP (Local Rent Supplement Program) can also be useful tools in getting people quickly housed.
Single Room Occupancy or SRO units should be made available for homeless youths, offering them stability while they complete their job skills training or educations.
Rapid rehousing should be expanded for singles and families and a robust permanent supportive housing program should be available for those who are extremely disabled, physically or mentally.
In these ways, I believe we can at least start to address the housing crisis in the District of Columbia.