Testimony of Kate Coventry, Policy Analyst, At the Public Hearing on Department of Human Services Budget

Chairman Graham and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a policy analyst with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on how policies impact low-and-moderate income families. 

I am here today to testify on family and individual homelessness and what the District can do to improve its homelessness response. 

Helping Families Home: A Roadmap for the District 

Today, twenty nonprofit organizations, including DCFPI, are releasing Helping Families Home: A Roadmap for the District (attached), a community report laying out the actions the District must take from now until next spring to put DC on a path to a system that serves families appropriately with the goal of quickly connecting families with the right services, including emergency shelter if needed, when they need it, regardless of the time of year. 

This, unfortunately, hasn’t been the case in DC for the past several years. Families have been able to enter shelter only when it is cold. Shelter conditions have been deplorable. And many families have been in shelter for too long. The unexpectedly harsh winter DC faced this year brought the crisis of the family homelessness system into sharp focus. 

No one wants to repeat the crisis from last winter, when some families were placed in recreation centers ‘ which the courts found could lead to irreparable harm to children ‘ and only on nights when it was below 32 degrees. Yet without sufficient planning and funding, the likelihood is high that the crisis will be repeated next year. 

In order to avoid last year’s crisis and lay the foundation for a high-quality family homelessness system, the report lays out key goals, and the steps needed to achieve those goals, some of which are already in progress. The roadmap focuses on five key areas for the District to tackle: 

  • Safe and adequate emergency shelter for families when they need it. Families with no safe housing option should be able to access shelter year-round. They should not be forced out when the weather gets above 32 degrees. And they should be sheltered in safe and decent settings. As the District develops a new emergency shelter system, improvements at DC General — in both the facility and services ‘ are needed to ensure the well-being of vulnerable families with children.
  • A system that quickly connects families with the right services to limit their stay in shelter. The District should build the capacity needed to assess families, match them with resources, and move families out of shelter within 30 days. This can improve the families’ well-being and reduce the risk that shelters will be filled beyond capacity.
  • A robust set of tools to meet the unique needs of each homeless family. The District needs strong prevention and diversion programs to help families avoid needing emergency shelter. It needs to strengthen Rapid Re-housing ‘ the main tool to move families out of shelter quickly. And it needs to take a closer look on how to better meet the needs of DC’s youth-headed households that represent a large share of homeless families.

To read the complete testimony, click here.