No Place Like Home D.C.'s population of homeless families exploded this winter. The city wasn't ready.

For two weeks, Donnell Harris begged every morning for a motel room. Last Friday, he got his wish.

Harris, his wife, and their two young children were bouncing between two recreation centers that the city had converted to makeshift shelters for a swelling population of homeless families. The conditions weren’t good. While most homeless families slept in private rooms at the former D.C. General Hospital or the motels that have become de facto overflow shelters, Harris’ family shared a basketball court with a dozen other families, separated by movable partitions that did little to create privacy or block noise.

Until their very last night at the rec center, there were no showers available. Some families were able to duck into a friend or relative’s home for a shower periodically, but others, like Harris’, did their best to wash up at the restroom sinks. For most of their stay, the lights were on all night, making sleep difficult. Stephanie Williams, Harris’ wife, says she and their daughter were bitten by bedbugs. Residents accuse the staff of handling their dinners with bare hands, and Harris says that one night last week, there was no dinner at all.

Every day, Harris and Williams had to travel to the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center on N Street NE to reapply for shelter. There, they usually waited several hours for a meeting with a member of the center’s staff, whom they petitioned for a room at one of the motels that the city has been using to house the families it can’t fit into D.C. General. Their request was always denied, and they were sent back to a rec center for another night of troubled sleep.

And then, last Friday, their pleas were answered. A D.C. Superior Court judge found that the partitioned spaces at rec centers didn’t comply with the law that requires the city to house homeless families in apartment-style shelters or private rooms during extreme heat or cold. The judge, Robert S. Tignor, issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the District from sheltering the families listed in the lawsuit at rec centers, and Harris’ family was transported to the Days Inn on New York Avenue NE.

Their stay lasted all of one night.

Saturday brought warmer weather, and the city lifted its hypothermia alert, meaning it was no longer obligated to shelter the homeless. Harris and Williams were told to check out by 10 a.m. They were on their own.

Harris’ family and others like it have taken the city by surprise this winter. Through January, the number of families placed in shelter was more than double the figure from the same period last year, while the number staying in motels has increased tenfold. As of this week, there are 827 families in shelters and motels, including 1,591 children.

City officials didn’t see the surge coming. Last winter, D.C. placed 463 families in shelter. This year, the Department of Human Services tried to play it safe with a worst-case-scenario forecast of 10 percent more homeless families in shelter than last year, or 509. But already in November, 617 percent more families required shelter than in November 2012. There was no way the city could keep up.

With spring around the corner, the city’s requirement to house homeless residents seeking shelter will end, but the crisis itself will continue. And as the rec-center dwellers find themselves facing the street, there’s little consensus on why there are so many more homeless families this year, how we should be providing for them, or what’s to prevent the same thing from happening next winter.

It used to be easy for Melvern Reid to keep up her 10-year-old grandson’s perfect attendance at school. The two of them would walk the half-mile to the LaSalle-Backus Education Campus on Riggs Road NE every day, making sure to arrive by 7:50 a.m. for the school’s eight o’clock breakfast club.

“Always 10 minutes early,” says Reid, as if repeating a mantra.

But since the family friend they were staying with put them out, getting to school has become more of a challenge. Like with Harris and his family, the city placed them in a series of rec centers, starting with the Benning Park Recreation Center on Southern Avenue, a part of town Reid doesn’t know. In order to navigate the series of buses required to get her grandson to school, nine miles away, Reid ushered him out the door at 5:45 a.m., and they didn’t arrive at LaSalle-Backus until 8:40. He missed breakfast club but still caught the beginning of class.

So far, she’s been able to maintain his perfect attendance—no absences this year, no tardies—but it’s taking a toll on her. I’m sitting with Reid on a recent frigid afternoon at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, the point of entry into the city’s shelter system for families. She’s wearing a gray Loony Tunes sweatshirt and a look of exhaustion. Between the daily trek to Virginia Williams to re-enroll for a spot at the rec center, the job training classes, the early mornings, and the late nights—at Benning Park, she says, people didn’t quiet down until 2:30 a.m., and the partial partitions between families didn’t provide any privacy, let alone noise protection—she’s hardly getting any sleep.

“The past two days, I’ve gotten five hours of sleep, total,” she says.

Life at the rec centers isn’t ideal, but for Reid, it’s much better than the alternative. When it warms up, the city won’t be obligated to put up homeless families, and the rec centers will close their doors at night. At that point, Reid and her grandson will have few places to turn.

Friends? “I’m 59,” she says. “Most of the people I grew up with, if I haven’t lost track of them, they’re buried.”

Family? Her younger daughter’s also homeless. Her older daughter, the mother of her grandson, is six and a half months pregnant, and her boyfriend deals drugs. Reid allows her grandson to spend time with them, she says, but “I just don’t want him staying the night.”


Reid says she’ll have three options. The first is an all-night laundromat in Maryland where she’s slept before when she had nowhere else to go. The second is to send her grandson to his mother, risks and all. And the third is to give him up to the Child and Family Services Agency.

What’s the best option? She doesn’t hesitate: “The laundromat.”

City officials say the problem isn’t that there are more homeless families, but that they’re seeking shelter more often this year. “Family homelessness has not spiked,” says Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services B.B. Otero. “The use of shelters has spiked.”

The theory in the Wilson Building is that because motel rooms were available from the start of winter, they became a too-attractive option, so families who might have otherwise endured crashing with family or friends saw a chance for greater comfort. (Individual homelessness hasn’t increased as much, partly because more individuals are chronically homeless and less affected by economic swings, partly because it’s easier for an individual to stay on a friend’s couch for an extended time than for a family.)

The solution, administration officials say, is to enact tighter controls to make sure families who have another place to stay do so, even if it’s not ideal. That was the idea behind legislation Mayor Vince Gray submitted to the D.C. Council last month that would give the city the power to remove homeless residents from shelters if it determined they had somewhere else to sleep.

Less than a week later, Gray changed course and announced he wouldn’t seek an immediate vote on the measure, which appeared unlikely to pass. Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro says the mayor decided there was no need for emergency legislation, since the number of families seeking shelter declined after the city began putting them in rec centers. “It looks like the ‘crisis,’ quote-unquote, is over,” he says.

David Berns, the director of the Department of Human Services, says legislation is still critical, or next winter’s shelter crisis will be even worse. “Without that, all of the beds at D.C. General will fill up immediately, we’ll be back into hotels, we’ll have another 1,000 families begging to get in, we’ll close it down just like last year, and it’ll be just a repeat, and that’s unacceptable,” he says. The District needs more control over the system, Berns says, so people aren’t guaranteed unlimited housing if they get in on a cold winter night. Housing advocates counter that the city already screens everyone seeking shelter, and if families have other options, D.C. shouldn’t be admitting them in the first place.

But the administration’s argument assumes there’s a significant number of families in shelter that have other viable options. It’s not at all clear that that’s the case. For families like Reid’s, the alternative to shelter isn’t a slightly cramped apartment with a friend or relative; they’ve already exhausted that option. It’s the street, or a shared space that’s not safe for children, or the laundromat.

In this regard, Harris is lucky. He recently landed a job at the Georgetown Safeway, and he expects to start training soon. The promise of a steady income allowed him to borrow money from friends so his family could stay in the Motel 6 in Camp Springs, Md., for a few nights after checking out of the Days Inn on Saturday. But he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to keep borrowing—or, if not, where his family will sleep.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” he says.

When the economy is strong, D.C.’s shelters ought to be relatively quiet. Few homeless families show up, and the ones who are there move quickly to more permanent housing, helped along by city programs. But the recession threw things off in ways that are being felt most intensely only this winter, four and a half years after the recession officially ended.

A year ago, Harris and his family had their own apartment in Anacostia. Then he got laid off from his security job and fell behind on rent. He applied for the city’s emergency rental assistance program but was evicted before he received any funds. For a year, the family stayed with a series of friends and relatives, until they had nowhere to go. Last month, they checked into Virginia Williams.

Reid’s path to the rec centers was similar. She lost her home three years ago and managed to stay with acquaintances until late February, when the last one finally asked her to leave. As with the Harris family, it’s her first time in the shelter system.

It’s stories like these that lead homeless advocates to argue that, contra city officials’ claims, there is a real spike in family homelessness. And while the city may have been taken by surprise, they say the crisis was foreseeable.

“It may seem sudden, but it’s really not such a surprise,” says Marta Beresin, a staff attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, “because we knew D.C. General was full on Nov. 1, and we knew our plan was dependent on moving families into affordable housing at a fast pace.”

A report from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute last week highlighted the unevenness of the recovery from the recession, with real wages for low-earning Washingtonians and residents with only a high school degree declining between 2008 and 2012, even as they rose for other groups. Meanwhile, housing prices have shot up, leaving very few market-rate units that poorer D.C. residents can afford.

This is where subsidized housing should help. But the city’s main tool for the production and preservation of affordable housing is the Housing Production Trust Fund, paid for with deed transfer and recordation taxes, which shriveled up as the housing market tanked during the recession. The fund was further depleted during Gray’s first two years in office, when the administration addressed recession-exacerbated budget shortfalls by taking about $20 million out of the Trust Fund each year to pay for the Local Rent Supplement Program, a low-income rental subsidy previously paid for out of the city’s general fund.

Since it takes about two years to build affordable housing, the effects of running down the Trust Fund are just being felt now, after the economy hit bottom and started bouncing back. (Recent Gray administration initiatives will mean more money invested in affordable housing in coming years.) Likewise, people like Harris and Reid who lost their homes during the downturn have maxed out their options for doubling up with friends and family, leading them to seek shelter now, despite the improving economy.

For these reasons, Beresin and other advocates take pains to point out that while DHS has taken much of the heat for the crisis, this is not a situation of the department’s making. “This is an affordable housing problem,” says Beresin, “and it’s being laid at the wrong agency’s feet.”

As housing has become increasingly unaffordable, the city has struggled to move people out of shelter and into long-term housing. The neediest shelter residents require permanent supportive housing, but the city directs about four-fifths of shelter families to a five-year-old program called rapid rehousing, which subsidizes a family’s rent in a market-rate apartment for a limited period of time until the family’s able to pay the full rent itself.

The dearth of affordable housing is making that harder. It’s not for lack of money: The city ended the last fiscal year with a $321 million surplus. But DHS won’t move families into apartments through rapid rehousing that they won’t eventually be able to afford on their own, since the subsidies are temporary. And every month, there are fewer apartments poor residents can afford without help. (In his annual State of the District address on Tuesday night, Gray laid out a plan for increased outreach to landlords to locate available apartments.)

Antoinette Jackson, who’s been staying at a rec center with her two sons, is in line for rapid rehousing, but she has yet to find an apartment she can afford with her sole income source, the $721 a month in disability benefits she receives for her autistic son. “In D.C., you can’t even find a one-bedroom for that much,” she says.

This isn’t the first time the city’s turned to rec centers to shelter the homeless. It happened in the mid-1990s, when gaping D.C. budget deficits led Congress to hand the city’s finances over to a federal control board. These days, with surpluses growing, the District is the financial envy of many cities and states around the country. But the rec centers are back.

The decision to use the centers this winter came after the city ran out of available rooms in D.C. hotels that were willing to put up homeless families. Hotels can’t refuse to house homeless families, says Berns, but they can decline to accommodate the special arrangements the city seeks and the “pretty deep discounts” it’s received on rooms.

So the city started placing families in Maryland motels and transporting them to and from the District. But then DHS’ general counsel informed Berns that the Maryland placements violated the Homeless Services Reform Act of 2005, which requires the city to “make available appropriate space in District of Columbia public or private buildings and facilities” for shelter in extreme weather. Since then, Berns says, he’s “reasonably confident” there have been no new placements in Maryland motels, although 63 families remain there as of this week.

Instead, the city has turned to rec centers. According to city officials, the switch has succeeded in deterring families from seeking shelter. The numbers are stark: While 307 families entered shelter in January, just before the move to rec centers, in February that number was just 59. A large part of the reason is that “only a fraction” of the people referred to rec centers for placement actually showed up, according to DHS spokeswoman Dora Taylor. The average stay in a rec center is just three nights.

“We did see the spike when we had hotels as the option,” says Berns. “But then when we didn’t have hotels as the option but provided for their safety in another way, the spike went completely in the other direction. And we actually now have a decline in the number of families that are classified as homeless in the last month.” In other words, with the “attractive” hotel option removed, families chose to stay with friends or relatives, giving them greater community support and saving the city money in the process.

That’s the rosy version. Homeless advocates see it differently: The city has been putting homeless families in such a bad environment that they’re sometimes opting for unsafe alternatives, like staying with abusive relatives or sleeping in public spaces.

Residents of the rec centers complain about all kinds of mistreatment. When I pay a recent visit to one center—DHS, which granted me access, requested that I not report its name—the residents can’t line up fast enough to share their stories. Upon learning that a reporter is present, one middle-aged woman breaks out into a dance on the basketball court that serves as a temporary home to more than a dozen families.

One complaint is the lack of showers. Several people staying at the rec center have heard vague rumors of a shower, but no one I speak to has actually used one. Berns says in a statement that “showering facilities are not a criteria for partial day shelters used during hypothermia alerts,” but that showers were made available last week due to families’ prolonged stays and will remain available.

Another is the sleeping conditions. Tignor wasn’t the first judge to find the rec centers wanting: On Feb. 24, a judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings found that the setup at the rec centers violated the Homeless Services Reform Act, which requires hypothermia shelter for homeless families in private rooms if apartment-style shelter isn’t available. That judge, John P. Dean, rejected DHS’ argument that the sleeping spaces in the rec centers, separated by movable partitions, conformed to the third Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of “room,” which is “a partitioned part of the inside of a building.” (The first definition, preferred by homeless advocates, is “a part of the inside of a building that is divided from other areas by walls and a door and that has its own floor and ceiling.” Tignor made sure to stipulate that the plaintiffs in his case be moved to rooms with “four non-portable walls, a ceiling, and a floor that meet at the edges.”)

When the families filed their complaint with OAH, there weren’t even partitions; families slept communally in the open. Shortly thereafter, Red Cross partitions arrived, but Dean found that they still violated the law because the thin materials and large gaps didn’t allow for privacy or quiet. DHS ordered new partitions it said would address these issues, yet when I visit the rec center, the new partitions are being used only on three sides, with the Red Cross barriers still in place at the front of each family’s enclosure, allowing others to peer in.

Families tell me that until the day prior, the lights were kept on all night, and that DHS staffers have been appearing on a small overhead balcony and looking down into their sleeping areas. “They say it’s a private room, but anytime we’re sleeping—if we get any sleep at all—they can walk out and look,” says Harris. “It’s nothing private.”

When the latest snowstorm hit, public buses and shuttle vans didn’t run, so families were stuck inside the rec center all day. Their sole source of entertainment was a single DVD, the 2002 Lil Bow Wow film Like Mike, that played repeatedly throughout the day.

And then there’s all the shuttling back and forth. Unlike residents of shelters and motels, who are guaranteed rooms as long as they need them once they’re placed, the rec center families must re-apply every day for a place to stay. For Sarah Drawn, that means leaving the rec center at seven each morning, hopping two buses to Deanwood to drop off her 1-year-old son at daycare, taking two more buses to her job at a juice bar on H Street NE, backtracking to pick her son up, then dashing to Virginia Williams to secure a place to spend the night. Fortunately, her boss understands when the travel makes her late for work, but her schedule doesn’t allow her any time to try to accomplish long-term goals, like finding permanent housing.

“I’m like a rubber band, just popping left and right,” she says. “I’m young. I’m 20. I have plans, I have goals. I feel like I’m getting nowhere.”

City officials say their aim is to put families in a situation where they have enough stability to find jobs and housing, but the need to re-apply daily for a rec center spot appears to undermine that mission. Most residents I speak with say they have no spare time during the day to seek out new opportunities—meaning that when they’re finally put out of the rec centers, they’ll be exactly where they started.

One resident, who asks, to the horror of her 11-year-old son, to be referred to as “Ms. Kay Kay,” carries a to-do list with her at all times, with items like finding a place to store her belongings, straightening out child support payments, and trying to enroll at the University of the District of Columbia. But she can’t find time to check any of them off because she spends so much time in the Virginia Williams waiting room. “This takes up my whole day,” she says.

Her son, who’s been visibly restraining himself from interjecting, finally chimes in. “Isn’t this illegal?” he asks. “Aren’t they supposed to be giving us private rooms?”

Tignor’s ruling may have spared a small number of families the indignities of rec-center living—three of the families listed as plaintiffs were moved to motels; the fourth had already been brought to D.C. General—but it’s not the final word. The temporary order will remain in place until an upcoming hearing that could result in a preliminary injunction against the use of shelters for all homeless families, not just the plaintiffs.

That hearing will take place on March 21, one day into spring. At that point, barring unseasonably cold weather, hypothermia conditions ought to be just about behind us, meaning that the city won’t have to put up homeless families anywhere. Any relief for the rec-center families not covered by Tignor’s restraining order will have come too late, at least for this year.

Michael Morgan was staying at the Benning Park Recreation Center last week with his wife and 2-month-old baby, and watched several other residents there leave for motels after the court ruling. “We did everything they told us to do,” says Morgan, who spent the warmer weekend with his family in the hallway of an apartment building they managed to sneak into. “And now they’re telling us because it’s not freezing, we have to go out on the street with our baby. Just because it’s getting warm doesn’t mean I don’t need somewhere for my baby to be.”

Family homelessness won’t disappear when winter thaws. It’ll just be hidden better. The families who have shuttled between rec centers will seek out relatives or friends who can offer a couch, if not necessarily a safe environment. Or they’ll sleep in cars, or at Union Station. Or they’ll leave town in search of a friend who can offer a hand or a city they can better afford.

The one place that won’t see much change is D.C. General. The huge backlog of shelter families, and the slow pace of placing those families into permanent housing, means it’ll remain full all summer, and most likely into next winter.

Ever since D.C. General closed as a hospital in 2001 and began its second life as a homeless shelter in 2007, city officials have insisted it’s only a temporary solution. But its transformation from a hypothermia shelter to the full-time base for homeless families, together with the lack of any real alternative shelter spaces, has made it the epicenter of the city’s family homelessness crisis.

Twice a week, a stream of children enter brightly painted rooms at D.C. General for playtime. The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project gives kids who can’t invite their friends over after school—and their parents who might otherwise have to look after them all day—some time to relax. On a recent evening, volunteers have set up white flags for the kids to fill in with green and red paint for Mexico Night in the “Around the World” curriculum. When the children arrive, they mostly ignore the setup and rush to put on Spider-Man costumes or stick a plastic bread-and-banana sandwich into the toy microwave.

The playtime rooms are cheery; the one for younger kids, between ages 1 and 3, bears an abridged Bill Cosby quote, “The essence of childhood is play.” When I arrive, I’m apprised of the most important ground rule: The word “homeless” is never mentioned. Playtime is designed to help children and parents forget the grim reality of the crisis they’re in.

But when the games spill out into the halls, as they inevitably do, reminders start to crop up. There’s the old hospital waiting room, with scattered furniture and a defunct cashier’s window. There are the omnipresent signs for things like “nuclear medicine” and “EEG.” Since D.C. General’s use as a shelter is nominally temporary, it’s never been properly converted to its new use, and all the trappings of the hospital remain.

While D.C. General is no one’s idea of an ideal living environment, several people staying at rec centers tell me they wish they could secure a room there. Still, advocates say they don’t know anyone who sought out shelter at D.C. General or motels when other viable options existed.

“People do not want to be in the shelter,” says Danielle Rothman, who oversees Homeless Children’s Playtime Project programming at D.C. General. “Most of them came from either a domestic violence situation or were living with someone that became untenable. I haven’t met anyone who came to D.C. General because they thought it was a great option.”

It’s not a great option for the city, either. Putting up a family at D.C. General costs taxpayers more than $150 a night; motels cost about $140. For that money, says Berns, the city could keep three to four families housed through rapid rehousing or emergency rental assistance.

But the city’s ad hoc approach has created such a backlog that it’s hard to be proactive about keeping families in safe housing. So for an increasing number of families, shelter has become the only option. Now that the thaw is upon us and the rec centers will no longer be available, some of those families find themselves facing the prospect of nowhere to stay.

Or, in the case of Reid and her grandson, the laundromat.

Reid was the lead plaintiff in the case that prompted the temporary restraining order last week, and like Harris’ family, she and her grandson spent Friday night at the Days Inn. On Saturday, when she had to check out, she was able to stay with her sister, who lives in a senior building. But her sister is allowed a limited number of guest visits per year, and Reid thinks she may already be over the limit. Plus her sister’s emphysema is exacerbated by the cigarette smoke in Reid’s clothing. It’s not a solution—not when Reid’s facing eight months of warmer weather during which the city won’t shelter her, outside of a few potential days of extreme heat.

“If she says that she can’t let me come, I’ll stay at my favorite spot,” Reid says. It may not be comfortable, but at least it allows her to continue taking care of her grandson.

“I’m not gonna give up on him,” she says. “I try to keep his life as stable as I can. I don’t want him thinking, just because we don’t have a place, he can go and hit the streets. Oh, it’s not happening.”

Our Readers Say

Great coverage of the most important housing issue facing DC-- and so many other US cities.
Great article, Aaron, and thank you for the context you provided in this article (history of housing funding, how long it take to build, what the District government is doing administratively, and what advocates know from working closely with homeless families and individuals), and, most importantly, bringing the voices of actual families to the forefront. Some great tools and funding are coming to the forefront now for housing, along with a much needed increase in minimum wage. We gotta keep working...
The demolition and elimination of thousands of public housing units in the last 10-15 yrs has resulted in a definite spike in family homelessness. There are simply LESS units to house low income families in need. HOPE VI, and now Choice Neighborhoods and New Communities demolish public housing properties that have been neglected by their landlord (the government!)and replaces them with units with barriers attached that most will not qualify for. Traditional public housing is permanent, truly affordable housing with limited barriers. Residents pay 30% of whatever their income is. However, society and the city seems perfectly fine with demolishing public housing, negatively stereotyping public housing, and then act so concerned about the homeless spike. Public Housing needs immediate repairs and preservation, NOT DEMOLITIONS!. There are hundreds of VACANT public housing units scattered throughout the city that the city is sitting on. Families can be moved into these units, repairs can be made yet no one wants to address this! If you support the demolition of public housing, then you support the homeless crisis happening in DC!
Lets see for a second,

YoY, unemployment down.
# people in the district at or below the poverty line has decreased.
The number of homeless people in the District has decreased.

Yet the number of people looking for the District tax payer to give them a hotel room for the winter DOUBLED.

"The theory in the Wilson Building is that because motel rooms were available from the start of winter, they became a too-attractive option, so families who might have otherwise endured crashing with family or friends saw a chance for greater comfort"

Nailed it!

I think the safety net is critical, I do. But what've we built in DC is a multigenerational "safety way of life".

I am sorry you would rather not sleep at the weird Aunt's house, or that you can't be bothered asking your parents / friends for some temp room in their basement, but that doesn't mean you get a free hotel room for months at a time.

And considering the "official" number of non-district residents (i.e. MD and VA residents) were in DC shelters two years ago, I would imagine quite a few in that ~800 number weren't DC residents either.

PS, stop having multiple kids if your career prospects top out at rental cop and your spouse isn't working. Life will be trancendentally easier.

I was wondering when the "stop having kids" comments would come...
You got it spmoore.

And you probably won't find a bigger cheerleader than Aaron Weiner for knocking down public housing in exchange for yoga studios, Starbucks, boutiques, and Trader Joes (what passes for culture in Washington). He is 100% for all development at almost any cost. It's sad. In this town, either you think it's all about how money motivates us, or else we are just holding on to whatever dusty little patch we have at any cost (ie community). Something tells me though that the former impacts the latter.

Have a nice one.
I was homeless from the time I arrived in DC (Dec. 07) until March '10. The 1st place I was sheltered at was DC General's Harriet Tubman Shelter (in the old Mental Health Ward).

At that time the 'residents' had to leave at 7AM, & were not allowed back in until 7PM. The single large room was filled with metal bunkbeds, housing a total of 150 or so women, almost all either just out of prison or having mental health issues. The bathroom contained 4 toilets & 3 shower stalls for all the women. There was no storage for personal items, so everything you owned had to be taken with you when you left the shelter in the morning.

I was regularly woken at 3:30AM by 140 women arguing with their invisible 'friend'. Out of self-defense I took to arising at 4:30AM to shower & leave by 6, when all the other women were just starting to get up. I lasted 3 months at Harriet Tubman; when I lost patience, I went to Calvary Women's Shelter (then located on 5th St NW) which only had 25 women, & whose hours for being out were 8AM to 2PM. What a relief!

2 years later, I finally got my SSDI approved & was able to move out into my own apartment. It's SO NICE not to be surrounded by other (usually inebriated) women. It's SO NICE not to have a (usually younger) Case Manager second-guessing my every action.

I've seen the Family Shelter at DC General, &, while not ideal, at least the residents have their own rooms & don't have to leave every morning. No, homelessness is not a palatable option, but at least the families staying there do have a roof over their heads!
Well, when everyone thinks that the only development worth having is $3,000 a month apartments and $750K condos, you are going to have more homeless people. Heck, they are literally converting the Central Union Mission Shelter on 14th Street to more overpriced Condos!! Converting a homeless shelter to a Hipster hideout is gentrification on steroids. While I agree with the government that providing motel rooms does attract homeless people who would otherwiase have a place to stay, the real problem is the fact that DC has destroyed much of the affordable housing in this town and has replaced it with overpriced housing that people with decent jobs can't even afford to buy.
At some point, hopefully sooner, rather than later, the individuals(s) responsible for administering the program of providing housing for the homeless will sit down and do some basic math. Let's say it cost an average of $100.00 per night. That equates to approximately $3,000.00 per month. There has got to be apartments in which these individuals and families can be placed for a lot less. And what is left over could be used to provide the necessary wrap-around services. C'mon, Mr. Mayor and your administration, particularly those in the housing and social services area - get with the program and start thinking outside of the box. Continuing to do what has always been done will not get 'er done!
find home made here.
find home made here..........

"Heck, they are literally converting the Central Union Mission Shelter on 14th Street to more overpriced Condos!!"

You do realize that the Union cashed in on that property's incredible value and moved to a new location, right? No one forced out the homeless shelter. They made a good business decision ("Gee, this property is worth 20x the value of what we originally paid for it 30 years ago, it would probably be a good idea to cash that in and find a cheaper place to relocate".)

And to the tune of "gentrification on steroids." Bring it on! The more gentrification, more safer streets, more entertainment options, rising property values are all good for the District. Returning the District to the Barry era is not desirable.
" the real problem is the fact that DC has destroyed much of the affordable housing in this town "

Oh, you mean all the crime ridden housing projects like Capper Carrollsburg and Park Morton (soon to be demolished)? Tough fucking shit. No one is guaranteed any place to live. Public housing is a scourge on communities. Look at all the people who supported Barry Farm being redeveloped. But no, according to you, crime infested "affordable housing" is acceptable as long as it's affordable housing.

Hope you like Ward 9!
"And you probably won't find a bigger cheerleader than Aaron Weiner for knocking down public housing in exchange for yoga studios, Starbucks, boutiques, and Trader Joes (what passes for culture in Washington)."

Wrong. You won't a bigger cheerleader for knocking down public housing than ME! Tear down all the slums. Find the grannies a place to live. The single moms with criminal kids can GTFO as far as I'm concerned. Having a baby out of wedlock should not entitle you to a place to live. It should make you think twice before sleeping with scumbags.

Find better mates.

DC has done a major disservice to homeless people by creating an environment that rewards them for being irresponsible.

Dagny, if you arrived in this city as a homeless person and you're mad because a younger Case manager second guesses your every action, GOD. You should be uncomfortable because you moved to a new city EXPECTING to be served. How sad is that?

Who cares about whether or not some lazy ass people sat in a recreation center all day only watching one DVD? Spend that time looking for a job or trying to better your situation. You don't have time to watch TV.

I also can't care about a 20 year old who chose to have a baby instead of an abortion. Your situation was probably fucked up BEFORE you got pregnant. Where is the sorry ass man who fathered the child? Why can't HE help care for his offspring?

As long as DC continues to absolve poor people of their catastrophic life choices and make EVERYONE else responsible for taking care of these folks, the same outcome will occur.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. We all have a story.

I am with you 100%. I bought a house in the Atlas District and I can't wait until the new Whole Foods is built (that will be directly across the street from the ESA Food Stamp office).

Yay for gentrification!!!
Having been a Black Landlord/Housing Provider in SE for 30 years I have been abused and used by tenants with the cooperation of DC Landlord and Tenant Court and those ruthless Legal Aid Society ugly-acting White lawyers that I am immune.
Let me say to the writer A. Wiener I had a father who got us evicted so much in Dc and PG County I could give directions to any place in the area. Conversely, some tenants in DC can litigate and Bullshit their way in court better than a hungry law student or those slimy Legal Aid and Pro bono firms looking to curry favor with judges and the Lawyers Bar (the are called Bars cause they are mostly drunk with power and legal knowledge to screw (metaphorically and literally) without a condom.

In 1968 winter with 6 inches of snow we were evicted in Palmer Park,PG Md by the Landlord with his workers while my mother, father and the six children were scrambled amongst relatives. Frankly, I wish DC and the nation start evicting in any type of mothafu**ing weather and the courts stop coddling the BS delay tactics with so many damn rules to give tenants a pass to scres us decent landdlords. I have had 2 fines since I became a landlord 30 years ago and have lost tens of thousands lost rent on 'professional Black tenants' skipping out. Mainly by L&T Court and wicked Legal Aid Society of White Witches buring my Black gluteus maximus.

Mr. Wiener I am gonna leave you a message and request you use write an article space on the plight of Black Landlords like me whom provide decent,safe, affordable,secure,sanitary housing in DC. Please,Please Please I beg you to hear us and I will answer every mothafu**ing question your azz asks...I mean this respectfully!!!!
This article was extremely powerful! I read it and it honestly reached me in such a way that it stuck with me the entire day. Even on the train ride home I could not stop thinking of the older woman who is taking care of her grandson. How in the end her only three options were to sleep in a laundromat,return the child to his incompetent parents,or give him up to Child Protective Services. It bothered me the desperation she must feel. No one in this day in age in AMERICA should have to go through this. As i rode the train home I hoped that someone much more financially able than me would step up and help this family...or any of these families. I don't know if anyone has. I just remember the article saying she only had THREE options. None of those options were in the least bit appealing. I challenge anyone that reads this paper that is in a position of power or wealth to HELP!....and if no one steps up...Dear Editor, Please contact me because i have a comfy finished basement with a full bathroom that I would gladly welcome this Grandmother into my home.
I know there are hundreds and hundreds of other stories just like this in our city. Please if you are fortunate enough to be able to help DO IT! The fact that a loving Grandmothers number one option is to sleep in a 24 hour laundromat for the summer is repulsing!
Landlord here as well. You want more affordable housing? I'd be happy to rent to lower income people, but DC's onerous processes and the ability for the tenants to go literally 6+ months without paying rent before an eviction can occur dissuade many landlord from doing so. There are many reasons for less affordable housing, but this is certainly one. We need a comprehensive revision of DC rental law to help protect honest, hard-working landlords who are taken advantage of.

On another note: Homelessness is a complex problem with many causes and it's disappoint that the author of this piece did such a disservice by omitting the facts behind why each person became homeless, aside from "she lost her house" or "he was laid off". You don't just "lose your house"; something else is going on, and Aaron Wiener failed the readers by glossing over each person's back story. Why did he lose his job? Why did she choose to have a child one year from being a teenager, with no prospects for raising a family? Although, perhaps the author's omission of these details was intentional.
DC is too expensive a city to live in if you can't make over $50k. If you make less than that, you need to move someplace else. I am not from DC originally. However, I cannot move back to the neighborhood I grew up in due to gentrification- literally the landed gentry turned semi-rural farmhouses into palatial horse estates. My childhood friend's land with a new house on it sold for over $5 million. There's no way I can afford to live where I grew up. That is what it means to have grown up around here. Even as it is, I end up working 7 days a week at my job just to keep it afloat. When I was young I had a government job and worked 5 nights a week at a video store. Why? Because I was BROKE and needed to save money to buy a better car and getting that extra $150 per week was worth it. There was a very brief time, just a few months, where I worked THREE jobs, mowing lawns on weekends too. Here's a big tip to poor people- go someplace else where rent is cheaper. Join the Military. Move south. Move in with Grandma. Get you and your kids to paint people's rooms for $200 per room and go pitch this deal at Grandma's church. Mow lawns and shovel snow for $10. And keep doing it- forever. Your idea of how much education you need to survive in DC and how much work you need to do to make it is WRONG, you miscalculated, now you have to recalculate and it probably means you need 2 jobs, and maybe need to learn to lose your accent.
I met this woman about 10 years ago, she and her friends ran this emergency maid service where for $500 they would come into your house after a party and set everything, absolutely everything, completely straight, clean it from top to bottom. When a friend used her they realized that her friends were pretty scruffy and seemed like a welfare-to-work crew. Think about it, $500 could net you $450 if your whole family cleaned a house top to bottom ($50 for cleaning supplies). Maybe even undercut the competition and do it for $400. I don't want to be one of those people who blames the homeless, but this city has boundless opportunities for smart people. I think I speak for a lot of people that our concern is that the people in the article aren't smart and we're not sure how to handle someone who calls herself "Miss Kay Kay" other than to roll our eyes and stop caring about her situation because of her ridiculous name.
Ya know, I truly feel for the homeless, I really do. However, supplying hotel lodging with cable and other fringe amenities does not sit well with me. The hotel option makes things too comfortable for those who'd rather not board with a family member who may have temporary available space. Additionally, there's a sense of entitlement that stemmed from the after-effects of the flawed public housing system. For many families who were institutionalized by public housing were raised from generation to generation as a large scale foster child of the state, receiving everything they need without working for it. Once public housing was virtually diminished, these people were left out on the curb, and now they are part of the shelter/homeless population. A few more points:
1.) D.C. is a booming town that's gentrifying rapidly. So if you can't afford here, you need to move where you can thrive. It's like me expecting a subsidy to live in Beverly Hills because I can't afford to live there, but I feel entitled to what it has to offer. LOL.
2.) Condoms and other forms of birth control can be purchased with EBT cards. Additionally, many medical institutions offer these things to the public for free. Opting not to have children you cannot afford can save you a lot of headaches in the future. If many of these individuals chose not to have numerous children, they would, at the least, be able to support themselves.
3.) It blows my mind when husband and wives can't find ONE job between the two of them. The only cases that I really can sympathize with the homeless are the children, and those who lost contact with all family, friends, and associates and are somewhat abandoned by society due to a middle illness. But witnessing an able bodied man and woman, MARRIED, in a Days Inn Shelter? Something doesn't smell right.
4.) I find it quite interesting of the demographic that's usually highly populating these shelters (and I'm black BTW). An illegal immigrant will come to this country, pile up twenty fold in an apartment, where everyone has a JOB (usually two jobs per person), and figure out how to make it work. But our own citizens, who made bad decisions, didn't educate themselves to be a formidable part of the workplace, had kids, and then all of a sudden end up in a shelter (WHEN THEY HAVE FAMILY WITH HOMES IN THE SAME CITY)
This article was necessary.However, I do agree with some of the other comments that the back story of some of the homeless persons featured were glossed over. For the record there are a lot more programs in place for the homeless population than Prince George's county but, the rent is cheaper. The city is expensive. I grew up in the DMV and so did my father. He lived in the Public Housing in Parkside NE (starting in the 50's) with his 9 brothers and sisters (all the same father mother never re-married, all went to college and/or served in the military). That was the 50's through the 70's. You talk about the crime that used to be in the city how U st, now the bubbling entertainment and clubbing hot spot it is now used to be dangerous, how H St. used to be dangerous. One word CRACK!!!!! That drug ravaged the city in the 80's and 90's and the families are still feeling the effects of it. Yes there is a level of personal responsibility but most of the offspring of that era don't know any better and there are ripple effects. The Virgina Center where the people featured have to go every day needs a better system. People need to have time to better themselves be it class, work, or therapy. All the while they need to "re-calculate" do the math and realize that nothing is cheap here, no more free rent. They made the decisions, or were a part of the decisions that led them to the situations they are in now. Government is only gonna do but, so much. Hotels and Motels should be a last resort. Comfort is a luxury that even most working poor poeple can not afford.
I hate it, and yes I am black I also work with the homeless population in Prince George's County, Maryland. I am from Northeast DC, lived mostly in P.G and I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of you out there generalize a little too much without really knowing the complexities of the history of D.C's well the DMV population. Gentrification is real and has caused a problem for a lot of families. A profit for a few poeple. I wish that there was a better way to include the people who live here in the redevelopment process rather than pushing them out. If these initiatives exist let me know.
The only initiative I see is the initiative of the privileged from St Louis from Michigan coming to dc, expounding on the ills of the underclass, and initiating their outward moves, gently (or not) prying their hands of their property, rented, owned, and booting them northward. Get out is the initiative that I see.

Seriously, most of the comments are not reflective of any lived experience or time spent with those with lived experience. It's just outrage at people poorer and less educated (supposedly) than they.

Yes, I am bitter. Bitter at the sense of entitlement (shocked more like it) I see of people not from here coming here and telling others who've been here for generations how it is, then themselves moving out when the right career opportunity comes along. There's something just so....tacky about that, among other things. No class.

Aaron Weiner, subtle though he may be, is pretty much tops on that list.
I am not against new people coming to the city . That is a good thing. The issue is affortable housing the money they have spent on motel 4140 a day you could pay some ones rent. If a person is working and not able to afford the rent on a apartment then that means the wages are too low. I had an apartment when I came to DC forty years ago that was $55.00 plus electric(bachelors). I was able to keep it because at that time even if I made min wage I could afford to pay rent buy food and it wasn't in the worst area of town (NW)Most people poor and middle class want a place of their own and they should have it if their is planning by the city and the federal government and private industry. I have hear a lot of things on this forum about people should not have kids if they are to poor to take care of them. There is a mean spirit to the people in this town that think it is okay not to provide housing to the working poor and middle class. It is un American and it needs to stop. build affortable housing.give the builders of these condo a break if they make some affortable housing unit availabe to the working poor. Affortable housing is just as important as a decent living wage. This is America every one is welcome to the table.
Heather Jae, I am working with Ms. Reid and her grandson to find them a safe place to stay. We have not been successful. If you are able to offer your basement, please e-mail me at Thanks for your compassion and kind offer.
My heart aches for the unlucky children of the dispossessed of America. The so-called 1% could solve the nation's problems overnight were they not adherents to the fascist bull---- of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and minions. Instead they have become sociopaths and psychopaths due to their insulation from the real world. Meanwhile our own Black millionaires,rich sports figures, actors, pastors, hip-hop artists and businessmen and rich drug dealers do the minimum to help, but literally throw money away that could help our poor!!! For this, they should be DAMNED!!!!
Wow! What can I say?...I too am a DC native living in Maryland now. I work in DC and have seen the city transform right before my eyes. I used to live in the Petworth area of the city in NW and it's barely recognizable. While I am very happy to see good things happening for the city, I am appalled by the dispoportionate number of people who are or will become homeless for whatever reason. It's pretty clear that the SE part of the city has gone to the dogs and is on it's way to becoming gentrified.

In the meantime, what happens to the residents who are holding on to that thread of hope of finding good, decent, and affordable housing? I don't feel like we need to place blame on people who have achieved fame, fortune, or any kind of status in their careers nor or are they obligated to help. Many of them have that mentality of "I got mine, now you get yours". You'll only find a few far and between that's willing to give back, espcially if they've been in that situation themsleves at one time or another in their lives.

I do feel that if you are an able bodied individual (male or female) and you were given the opportunity to wake up with breath in your body and all of your faculties functioning properly, there really is no excuse. So what if you have to come back to a shelter for another night or two, as long as you are out doing something productive during the day to make your situation better. My hats off to those who themsleves, don't have much but are willing to help make a change such as "Heather Jae" who was willing to open her home to perfect strangers just to see them off the street and hopefully get on their feet.

I volunteer at shelters as often as I can, giving out clothes, or food but I realize that is not nearly enough but if it is gives somebody a warm coat or a full stomach, it brings forth hope and the comfort of knowing that people do care.

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