D.C. may stop helping out-of-town homeless
12 percent seeking shelter not residents
Advocates for the homeless want the D.C. Council to slow its consideration of an emergency mayoral proposal that would limit homeless benefits to only D.C. residents and make it easier to turn away nonresidents seeking shelter in the city.
In a joint letter Wednesday to city lawmakers, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Bread for the City, the Children’s Law Center and other advocacy groups said they share Mayor Muriel Bowser’s goal of ensuring shelter for D.C. residents. But they said the legislation should go through public hearings rather than be rushed through the council.
“There is no emergency that supports moving forward such a potentially problematic bill with no community input,” the groups wrote. “While we appreciate the agency’s concern about spending dollars wisely, and support such efforts, there has been no data provided to support a claim that these provisions would lower costs.”
Miss Bowser touted the measure Tuesday at a mayor-council breakfast.
With its right-to-shelter law and emergency housing plans, the District has become a haven for the homeless, with some venturing from far afield to reap the benefits the city freely offers.
Recent studies show that homelessness is up in the District and down in its suburbs, and the D.C. Department of Human Services notes that 12 percent of families seeking shelter in Washington are not city residents.
“We have an obligation to serve our residents. But we cannot serve the entire region. We’re serving everybody else’s residents,” Miss Bowser said at the breakfast Tuesday. “Our own residents are standing at the back of the line.”
Statistics from a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments report in May are telling. Between 2007 and 2013 the total number of homeless people rose by 14 percent in the District. The city provides 682 beds for homeless singles and 405 family units with a total of 1,312 beds. Emergency shelters offer 2,256 single beds and 406 family units with a total of 1,295 beds. Transitional housing facilities have 950 single beds and 428 family units with a total of 1,190 beds. But in the suburbs, total homelessness fell by:
● 13 percent in Prince George’s County, which offers 337 year-round beds for families, 153 year-round beds for singles and 68 beds specifically during winter months.
● 11 percent in Montgomery County, which has 556 beds for singles, 417 beds for families year-round and 354 beds for the winter.
● 12 percent in Fairfax County, which provides 424 year-round individual beds, 762 beds for families and 245 beds exclusively for winter use.
● 24 percent in Arlington County, which offers 117 beds for individuals, 88 beds for families and 25 set aside for winter.
According to D.C. Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger, the District has to spend about $80,000 a night on motel rooms for homeless families because its shelters are full.
At Tuesday’s breakfast, council member Jack Evans said it is fiscally irresponsible for the city to shoulder the homeless burden for the whole region.
“Conservatives get accused every day of being racist and sexist and homophobic without any proof of that. But here’s a guy who regularly expressed all of those sentiments in his Twitter feed.”
— Virginia Delegate C. Todd Gilbert, Page Republican, on a Charlottesville City Council member who is under fire for crude tweets he made years ago that disparaged white people