I met a homeless family the other day. The mother was, to all appearances, six months pregnant. The father was tending to their toddler.
They had no place to stay and no money for food. And the Family Resources Center — the District’s central intake for homeless families — couldn’t help them.
The mother told me that they’d been advised to find some place to stay — as if they’d have asked for shelter if they had one.
They’d returned to the Center in hopes of a gift card so they could buy some food, but it had run out of cards. I was told the cards were donated by corporations like Safeway and Giant, and the chains hadn’t come through of late.
The family could, however, get a Metro fare card. I asked the father what they’d do with it. He said he guessed they’d go back to their former neighborhood and see if someone would take them in. Not likely, he seemed to think.
So here’s a family that’s destitute. A little kid and an unborn child at high risk of long-term health and developmental damages due to hunger.
Perhaps for the toddler also psychological damage if he understands what it means that they’re spending nights in bus stations or hospital waiting rooms — even, as seems likely, if he picks up on the fear and stress his parents are feeling.
Who knows how many more stories like this there are — and how many more there’ll be in months to come?
All because the District government couldn’t find enough money to fund its homeless program in light of projected needs.
And a budget for this fiscal year that provides not a penny more for homeless services — actually $3 million less than what the Department of Human Services was spending.
So DHS has again stopped providing shelter for newly homeless families. Official end of the winter season means they’ll be on their own — perhaps till the next freezing-cold day.
And now Mayor Gray has proposed a budget that would effectively cut homeless services by $7 million. These are “lost,” i.e., spent, federal funds that he could have replaced with local dollars.
No doubt the budget must address many priorities. But I fail to see how letting homeless families fend for themselves squares with budget development principles that include “protect the District’s most vulnerable residents.”
Also fail to see why all tax and fee increases must be off the table if the alternative is cuts that undermine other principles.
The Mayor tells us that to “seize our future,” we must “improve the quality of life for all.”
My quality of life wouldn’t be impaired by paying, say, a sales tax on services that aren’t covered now — or for that matter, income taxes at a higher rate.
It is impaired by helpless worrying about the literally help-less family I met. Their quality of life goes without saying.