Here in D.C., another fall means it’s time for another winter plan, the document that spells out how the District intends to ensure that all residents have shelter during severe weather.
Once again, I’m chewing over the provisions for homeless families. And I’m not the only one.
The Operations & Logistics Committee, which develops the nuts and bolts of the plan for the Interagency Council on Homelessness, met again late last month to hash over a couple of last-minute changes advanced by the Department of Human Services. One of these was a major shift in the plan for homeless families.
Here’s how things seem to stand now.
The Operations & Logistics Committee figured that the District would need 31% more units for families than were available at the start of last winter’s season. That meant 215 additional units.
But according to a presentation at the last ICH meeting, the Committee assumed that 100 “beds” (the math indicates that means units) would be available at DC General on November 1.
The assumption reflected a goal put forward by DHS — 100 families moved out of DC General to more permanent housing by the end of October.
Why DHS and/or the Committee assumed that the units vacated would remain empty until the winter season begins isn’t clear to me. It’s not as if there aren’t families waiting to move in right now.
In any event, I gather the Committee didn’t feel altogether comfortable with the projection. So DHS agreed to add 100 overflow units at DC General, to be ready for occupancy on December 1. Then it changed its position.
What it plans to do instead is fast-track funding to place more families in permanent supportive housing, transitional housing and temporary housing units scattered around the city. Units identified in the plan total 180, bringing total capacity to what it would have been with the additional overflow units at DC General.
DHS told the Committee it had already moved 45 families out of DC General — 15 into PSH and the rest into housing temporarily subsidized with federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing funds.
If I’ve got the numbers right, this means it will have to find housing for an additional 55 families in the next couple of weeks. The DHS representatives at the meeting seemed confident they could do this.
DHS plans to line up an additional 80 units and have them ready for occupancy so that it can swiftly move some families out of DC General — or perhaps divert them from the shelter altogether — as the winter season progresses.
DHS argues that the funds required to renovate units at DC General would be better spent on more suitable, stable housing situations. Also more consistent with the five-year strategic plan ICH adopted in April.
No one, I think, would raise principled objections to this. Surely housing is a better option than emergency shelter units like those at DC General. The big question is whether the DHS housing initiative can keep pace with what’s likely to be a continuing high level of need.
I’m not thinking here only about families who will lose their housing — and others who will run out of money for motel rooms or wear out their welcome with friends and relatives.
What about the families whose housing is only temporarily subsidized? Will they be able to pick up the full cost of rent some months from now? Or will they be back where they started, in urgent need of shelter?
Well, that won’t happen till this winter’s over. Hard to tell whether DHS has thought so far ahead.
Members of the Operations & Logistics Committee voiced some reservations along these lines. Clarence Carter, head of DHS, responded, “When we have to do something else, we will do something else.”
But that was before Mayor Fenty directed the agency to cut its budget by about $11 million. And didn’t we hear reassuring words like these last year?
UPDATE: I’ve just learned that the Mayor’s order doesn’t actually cut agencies’ budgets. It puts certain categories of spending on hold and prevents spending commitments in other categories that could complicate upcoming decisions on budget cuts.
UPDATE II. This posting reflects some misunderstandings about the role of the Operations & Logistics Committee and its estimate of family shelter needs. A followup posting provides clarifications and some additional information based on the DC Council Committee on Human Services’ hearing on the plan.