Testimony of Kate Coventry, Policy Analyst, At the Public Oversight Roundtable on “Safety Procedures at DC General Family Shelter”

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 talk about several concerns DCFPI has around the District’s ability to adequately serve the most vulnerable homeless families this coming winter. These concerns revolve around the District’s ability to provide sufficient case management services, coordinate services provided by multiple agencies, move families out of shelter quickly, and hire new social workers at the DC General Family Shelter. In addition, I am also here to offer recommendations on how to address some of these critical issues. 

Providing Sufficient Case Management and Coordinating Services 

National research has found that most homeless families are very similar to other low-income families who are not homeless.[1] These families, like other low income families, struggle to maintain housing primarily because of low income and lack of access to low cost housing. But there is a subset of homeless families, estimated at 8 to 10 percent, who are more vulnerable than other families because they suffer from multiple significant and persistent challenges, such as addiction or serious physical and mental health issues. These families struggle to maintain safe and stable households, and there is a considerable risk that the children may be placed into foster care.

In DC, many of these families receive services through multiple programs and agencies such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Department of Behavioral Health, the Child and Family Services Agency, the Department of Disability Services as well as nonprofit providers. The logistical challenges and stress of homelessness can disrupt a family’s participation in these services and adds yet another service relationship for the family — case management through the DC General Family Shelter or through the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center. 

As outlined in the District’s report, “Summarized Findings and Recommendations: Review of Interactions with RR and Her Immediate Family and District Government Agencies,” there is not a clear protocol of how these various agencies should coordinate to provide the best support for the family. DCFPI strongly supports the report’s recommendation that a cross-agency working group be formed to develop this protocol by studying the current service structure as well as national best practices. 

However, the working group will take time and DCFPI is concerned about vulnerable families who are currently in shelter or will be entering shelter this coming hypothermia season. We recommend that a temporary protocol be developed which outlines which agency will be the primary service provider, the one charged with coordinating services and ensuring that needed information is shared. We also ask that this protocol address the needs of families who may not be connected with other services but have a need for more case management than is currently provided by the homeless services system. 

To read the complete testimony, click here.

[1] Rog, Debra, Scott Holupka, and Lisa Patton.  Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2007.  Available at http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/homelessness/improving-data08/.