Shelter Intake in District of Columbia

The Washington Post had a front page article on the number of "diversions" from shelter in the nation's capital.  The story focused on one family given a bus ticket back to North Carolina.  Only 21.9% of those who request shelter in DC are offered a bed which the Post compared to New York City at around 50% and Boston offering shelter to 44% of the homeless families.  It is really hard to get accurate data from Cleveland's Coordinated Intake, but it is around 72% to 83% of the families are offered shelter.  This means that we have the highest percentage of sheltered families among big cities in America.  Cleveland needs to be proud of this policy of working hard not to turn people away.   We should champion this and show how much compassion there is locally.

The previous Mayor of DC was only admitting 9% of the families who requested shelter.  Here is how the Washington Post quoted a critic of the policy in DC.

Amber Harding, a staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said social workers appear to lack clear guidelines on how to assess need and when to encourage other housing options, such as staying with relatives. She said clinic lawyers frequently persuade senior city officials to reverse decisions made at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, the central intake point for homeless families.

“To me, it is a sign of a broken system that someone can go to the family resource center and be denied and I can tell their same story to the senior leadership . . . and they get admitted,” Harding said. “You shouldn’t need a lawyer to get into emergency shelter.”

The federal government gives $2 billion to tthe majority of families who request help.  Denying shelter to a family should never be the response.  It is costly, but providing assistance can help.  It can re-establish that government can solve problems.  It can pick up hidden issues such as depression, behaviorial health issues, addiction, or domestic violence that women are reluctant to disclose upon first encounter with an intake worker.  If a family makes the trek down to see a stranger who works on behalf of the City or County and asks for help, they should be given some assistance.

One of the problems is the various definitions of homelessness. Does sleeping on a strange couch count as homeless?  Does the family staying in a motel count as homeless?  Does the family who is spending every other night in their car and the other nights with their sister count as homeless?  DC spends $80,000 on hotel nights to accommodate the overflow.  Cleveland spends far more on transportation and monitoring of overflow.  There is nothing similar to the Washington Legal Clinic in Cleveland to complain about these decisions made by Coordinated Intake.  There is also no oversight of these arbitrary decisions made at Intake. 

These are life and death decisions that could result in the break up of a family, and should not be made after a half hour to one hour interview with a stranger.  In the richest country on earth, we should default to offering the bed to everyone coming in the door and sorting their housing situation out when they are safe.  They keep saying that intake is like the triage done at a hospital.  Hospitals do not discharge people to the streets until the individual sees a trained professional and until they are stabilized.  Coordinated intake has no oversight.  Government does not provide a check on the system, and there is no way to protect against mistakes until there is a tragedy. 

Brian Davis

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Interesting News Stories Around Homelessness

NPR story on Skid Row.  It all started so well describing the disaster area that we call Skid Row.  They talked about this concentration of poverty and the number of years that the area has been neglected. 

"What I describe Skid Row as is the biggest man-made disaster in the United States," says the Rev. Andy Bales, who runs the shelter and has worked on Skid Row for almost 10 years.

Bales says things had been improving on Skid Row, but they've taken a bad turn since the recession. He says hospitals from the region, and even other states, have been dumping homeless patients on Skid Row illegally, and that jails are releasing inmates without enough preparation. Resources have also been reduced for shelters in favor of other approaches.

It then went all downhill when the discussion shifted to permanent supportive housing.  As we have said repeatedly on these pages, PSH projects are fine and needed, but they do not solve homelessness.  If 20% of the population are long term and eligible for the PSH projects, then housing all of those individuals will leave 80% of the population still homeless. No matter how you spin it, the money saved in the community by removing the 20% will not go to address the other 80% of the population.  Finally, we never solve the problem for the 20%, because we cannot build enough housing at one time to end long term homelessness.  So, we help a few people, but even the problem with the long term homeless is not "solved."  It is only reduced in the community. There are plenty of other homeless people who replace those placed in PSH buildings.

This is similar to a hurricane hitting Ft. Lauderdale and destroying 50,000 homes, and the HUD Secretary steps out to say, "Don't worry, we got this. We plan to build 3,000 homes to solve this problem by 2020."  People would laugh him out of the room.  They would say that the population would move or be dead by 2020.  They would demand immediate action to solve the problem of homelessness for the 50,000 who lost their housing.  This is why there is this disconnect at the local level.  HUD officials are prescribing a cure for an illness that has nothing to do with what is going on in the community that we live in. 

Officials Want DC Family Shelter to Close.  We talked about the horrible family shelter in Washington DC.  Human Service workers in DC are trying to close the former DC General Hospital and replace it with a better facility.  The article does not mention any timeline or source of funding to replace all these units.  There is a goal of one-to-one replacement of the beds of DC General, but it is going to cost millions to provide for all these families.

On October 22, Vice media took a look at the inability to speak about homelessness in the United States. Peter Brown Hoffmeister looked at how we talk about homelessness.  He does a really good job talking about all the hardships faced by homeless people.  I spent some time living outside with a few homeless people and was unaware of all the things that were a threat to a person without a place to go home to.  The dangers of getting wet, learning how to sleep with one eye open were big issues.  The Vice media has a really nice in depth article on all the things people facing a homeless person and all the things the general population does not understand.

The National Coalition for the Homeless Board Members look at the need for expanded housing voucher program.  In most cities there are years long wait.  In Cleveland, there were 64,000 people who tried to get a voucher when it was opened and only 10,000 people had their numbers drawn.  We will wait for seven years before the voucher list will re-open.  There are so many who cannot afford housing and need a little help.  They make minimum wage and cannot afford the rents even in a rather inexpensive housing market like Cleveland.

Tokyo has a record low number of homeless people despite being one of the most populous cities in the world.  They are actually solving homelessness, while we are only paper solving homelessness in the States.   We talk about slight reductions in homelessness, but when you look behind the numbers there are so many who are not counted but living in basements or garages.  There are families who never get counted because they are not visible.  There are so many kids who couch surf and don't counted.  We need to look at how Japan is dealing with affordable housing compared to the United States.

Brian Davis

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Dan Kerr Takes Organizing to DC

Dan Kerr, a founder of Food Not Bombs in Cleveland and writer of Derelict Paradise is now teaching at American University in Washington DC and working on a history project of the Center for Creative Non-Violence Shelter.  Here are where the actual oral histories are kept about homelessness in DC.  Professor Kerr cut his teeth in Cleveland where he would interview people after the meal downtown about homelessness.  He learned a great deal about the conditions of the shelters in Cleveland and then wrote his book about the history of homelessness in the city. 

Now, he has turned to a way bigger problem--homelessness in our nation's capital.  Only San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City have a bigger problem with people living outside than DC.   The problem is that the people who can end homelessness in America drive by the problem everyday on their way to work.  Dan's students have been doing interviews and posting them on this blog.  The other site gives a history of downtown including the closing of Franklin Circle shelter and the troubled history of the CCNV shelter.  CCNV had all the high aspirations when it was created, but has had regular leadership issues.   They have had confrontations with the City and federal government, and have seemed to be under threat for 35 years.  Dan put together a nice look at the issues faced by activists in Downtown DC. The shelter founded by peace activists and Mitch Snyder is looking at a plan for the next five years and will use the information collected to put in place a strong platform.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry