DC Homeless Shelters In Crisis

As I wrote awhile ago, the District has cut back on its emergency shelter space, even though shelters were full or over-capacity at the time. A coalition of service providers and advocates has been monitoring the situation. What they report is a true crisis.

During the last nine days in April:

  • People were turned away from shelters 226 times–an average of 25 times per night.
  • On one of the colder nights, turn-aways rose to 79.
  • On the last day, there were no vacancies in any shelter for individuals or families.
  • On another day, 59 homeless people said they hadn’t gone to a shelter the night before because shelters are over-crowded or because they’d often been turned away.

The problem is not merely lack of space. The coalition’s one-day survey found that many homeless people on the streets had not sought shelter the previous night because of over-crowding, unsanitary and/or unsafe conditions or because transportation was a problem.

But numbers don’t capture the human suffering. Watch the interviews the coalition has posted and you’ll see what I mean.

Tomorrow morning, the coalition will be holding a rally to demand immediate action on the crisis. They’re calling on the Mayor to:

  • Increase both individual and family shelter space to meet the increased need.
  • Track demand to determine how much shelter space will be needed over time.
  • Improve and monitor conditions in the shelters.

You can join them at 10:00 in the Freedom Plaza, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

You can also support the coalition’s recommendations by signing an online petition to the Mayor.

5 Responses to DC Homeless Shelters In Crisis

  1. Buck Turgidson says:

    Until we stop calling it “homelessness” and start treating the root cause (mental illness), we will get nowhere.

  2. kathrynbaer says:

    Actually, Buck, mental illness is only one cause of homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless says that the two major causes of the rise in homelessness are the growing shortage of affordable housing and increasing poverty.

    Now, of course, mental illness can lead to poverty. But so can unemployment or under-employment that are unrelated to mental health issues. Look at all the people who are becoming homeless because of the recession.

    Low-wage employment can also leave someone too poor to afford a place to live. Recall that the current federal minimum wage is just $6.55 per hour. That’s way below what would be needed to afford the Fair Market Rent on a two-bedroom apartment.

    In Washington, D.C., where I live, the 2009 homeless count showed a 25% increase in literally homeless persons in families. Of these, 1,426 were children. There’s no way we could account for these figures by mental illness. In fact, of the homeless adults counted, 21% reported a severe mental illness, as compared to 34% reporting a chronic substance abuse problem and 23% with a chronic health problem.

    So, yes, we need to address the relationship between mental illness and homelessness. But I think we also need to do much more about other, more prevalent causes too.

  3. Angel says:

    There seems to be a disconnect between the cost of housing/rent and the current economic picture.
    The poor can no longer afford to house themselves without govt assistance. Secure well-paying jobs are disappearing giving rise to unemployment and under-employment low-wage jobs. Seems lime you have to be middle class to afford housing which averages $2,000 a month.

  4. kathrynbaer says:

    You’re certainly right about the high cost of housing, Angel. However, for low-income people, the problem is not new. Back in May, I wrote about a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition which said that, as early as 2005, very low-income households, except for those with housing assistance, were paying, on average, 82% of their income for rent. There are specifics that may interest you, both for the nation as a whole and for the District of Columbia. You’ll find the posting filed in the Affordable Housing category.

  5. […] about the District’s plans to cut back on shelter space. In late April, it conducted a nine-day survey, focused principally on homeless individuals. But family homelessness has also been a major […]

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