Across the District, families with kids are spending the night in parks, bus shelters, and emergency rooms even though shelter space and housing vouchers are available to help at least some of them. DCFPI urges Mayor Gray to reverse his decision not to use these resources and to ensure the safety and well-being of DC’s kids.
There are now 127 vacant units at DC General, but the Gray administration has chosen not to use them until legally required to do so during hypothermic weather, which typically starts in early November. The Department of Human Services reports that they lack the funding to house these families, and, indeed, the fiscal year 2013 budget for homeless services has at least a $7 million hole.
Beyond keeping shelter space unused, the mayor also has directed the DC Housing Authority to hold on to locally-funded rent vouchers as families leave the program, rather than use the vouchers to help new families. At this point, the number is small’17 vouchers–but letting these vouchers go unused is putting extra strain on the District’s shelter and affordable housing resources.
There is not a moment to waste, as some parents seeking shelter are being reported to the Child and Family Services Administration (CFSA) for investigation. CFSA has informed them that because of their lack of stable housing, their children may be placed into foster care. Foster care is extremely disruptive to the children involved and quite costly.
This urgent issue demands the mayor’s attention. Mayor Gray has taken steps in recent months to identify additional funds for other critical services for families, and the mayor could do so for homeless services as well. Mayor Gray re-directed savings from several agencies in 2012 to support the TANF program in the coming year. As the city closes out fiscal year 2012 on Sept. 30, a number of other agencies appear to have spent fewer funds than were budgeted. By using the same creativity he used to find funds needed to accelerate Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) implementation, the mayor can find the funds needed to open emergency shelter now.
That’s the budget perspective. Here’s the human perspective: Each week between 10 and 12 families with no safe place to stay seek help from the Department of Human Services. Up until last year, DC provided emergency shelter to every one of these families to ensure the safety of the children. In 2011, because of increasing numbers of homeless families and limited funding, DC leaders decided to serve families only during hypothermia season when the city is legally mandated to do so. Between April and October 2011, all families seeking help were turned away no matter how urgent their situation.
To limit the number of families turned away, the DC Council allocated funds in the fiscal year 2013 budget to move 250 families out of shelter and into affordable housing. This would help families access stable housing and open up space at the DC General Family Shelter to serve families with emergency needs. Now there are empty units, but the Department of Human Services reports its lacks the funds needed to open them up to families in need.
The District is facing a homeless families crisis. Recent Census statistics confirm that poverty among DC children jumped in the recession and has not started to improve. Statistics from earlier this year show that homelessness among families with children jumped 75 percent in the last four years. This is a time to be using all available resources to address this crisis, not to let resources sit idle.