Mayor’s Proposed Budget Leaves Critical Gap in Homelessness Funding

Regular readers of the District Dime know that DC is in the midst of a family homelessness crisis, with an increase of nearly half since 2008 and demand for shelter so great this that nearly 200 families have been placed in hotels most winter nights.

Given this dire situation, it is unfortunate that the Mayor’s proposed budget has a $7 million  hole in funding for homeless services, just as last year’s proposed budget failed to adequately fund these services.  The budget does not replace an anticipated loss of federal resources that are being used this year for homeless services.  The cut affects both the ability to operate shelters for homeless families and transitional housing subsidies that are used to help families move out of shelter.  It is worth noting that replacing these funds tops the mayor’s “revenue priority list,” but this will get funded only if the Council maintains the wish list and only if tax revenues rise further.

Due to rising homelessness, the District expanded capacity this year at the DC General Shelter but this has not been enough.  As of 2 weeks ago, DHS was housing 171 families in hotels.  Hotels are significantly more expensive than shelters ‘ roughly $3,000 per month per family ‘ and yet provide far less access to supportive services. 

As we look to next year, the problems are likely to be worse. Ten to 12 families request shelter each day, but DC has stopped sheltering any newly homeless families because of the hypothermia season.  A new assessment tool of families on TANF has revealed that more than 1/3 of TANF families are homeless or at-risk for homelessness.  Changes to TANF coming in October are also likely to increase this risk.  More than 6,100 TANF families will see a 25 percent reduction in monthly benefits, leaving a family of 3 with less than $260 per month. And cutting transitional housing funds will shut off the path out of shelters, forcing shelter population to swell even more.

Although filling the homeless services hole is first on the mayor’s proposed Revenue Priority List ‘ the list of initiatives that will be funded if FY2013 revenue projections increase ‘ we believe the Mayor should have found the replacement funds as he did for federal losses in public safety and WMATA support.  It would be better for families and the city’s pocketbook to make a strategic investment in homeless services than to face a spending overrun next year due to the high costs of hotel rooms.