Draft Winter Plan Has No Plan for Newly-Homeless DC Families

Every year at about this time, the District of Columbia’s Interagency Council on Homelessness produces a Winter Plan. This is one of the responsibilities the law that created it assigns.

The plan is supposed to account for how the District will meet its legal obligation to ensure that no one in the jurisdiction is exposed to freezing-cold weather during the winter months.

The ICH has a multi-stakeholder Operations and Logistics Committee that’s technically responsible for much of the draft plan. But as a practical matter, the Department of Human Services calls the shots when it comes to such crucial matters as shelter sites and other resource commitments.

I’ve analyzed — and written about — the annual Winter Plan for five years now. I’ve focused mainly on the portion that deals with homeless families because DHS has struggled to accommodate all those who are entitled to shelter (or housing) ever since the recession began.

The issue has always been whether the plan was realistic, given the number of homeless families DHS should be prepared to accommodate.

Past plans have given us some ability to arrive at conclusions. We’ve been told how many units DHS planned to have available at DC General, the main shelter for homeless families. We’ve also usually been given some figures for subsidized housing units.

No such figures for the latter last year. But we were able to back into a range of the number that would be needed because the Operations and Logistics Committee had gotten some expert help with projections — not only for the whole winter season, but month-by-month.

This year, the draft Winter Plan itself includes something like this projection — a month-by-month estimate of the number of families who will need shelter or housing and won’t already have it in November, when the winter season officially begins.

The plan anticipates a 10% increase in the number of families who will qualify for shelter or housing, i.e., those who will otherwise have no safe place to stay on freezing-cold nights.

By this estimate, DHS will have to shelter and/or house 590 families. These are in addition to the 271 that the plan assumes will be at DC General come November and perhaps some of the 65 or so who are still in motels because DHS had nowhere else to put them when it had to put them somewhere.

Also in addition to however many will have limited-term or indefinite-term housing subsidized with DHS funds. (Still trying to get reasonably accurate numbers for them.)

The draft also provides a month-by-month estimate of the number of families who will leave DC General with no assistance from DHS. It then subtracts this number from the number of newly-qualified families. I can’t see why.

Be that as it may, the plan foresees the need to accommodate 467 newly-qualified homeless families during the five-month winter season.

What DHS will do with them is a total mystery. The plan doesn’t tell us how many units will be open at DC General because families there received some form of subsidized housing or a one-time cash infusion from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

It gives us no numbers for the ERAP grants or the several diverse forms of subsidized housing — nor for the placements in motels that the plan formally acknowledges may be necessary.

All we have is a list of resources DHS may use.

This isn’t because Operations and Logistics fell down on the job. It’s in part because of some serious problems over at DHS — problems that at least some committee members felt could again lead to an overly-reassuring Winter Plan if it incorporated the agency’s placement projections.

Next post will talk about some of these problems.

UPDATE: The limited-term subsidized housing I referred to is housing for which a portion of the rent is paid by the Family Re-Housing and Stabilization Program — the District’s name for its rapid re-housing program. I’ve just learned that there are currently 386 families in FRSP. This is probably roughly the number that will be in the program in November.

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3 Responses to Draft Winter Plan Has No Plan for Newly-Homeless DC Families

  1. Diane Nilan says:

    Maybe they plan to use the thousands of units of vacant public housing.

  2. Kathryn Baer says:

    Such irony! Actually, I think they plan to rely, so far as they can, on rapid re-housing.

  3. […] my last post noted, the draft plan provides a more sophisticated projection for homeless families — a […]

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