Just How Bad Are Homeless Services In The District?
Earlier this week, we learned that Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration dipped into funds for needy families to help make up for his Summer Youth Employment Program's budget shortfall. The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute reported:
"The Fenty administration chose to cover the overspending in summer jobs by transferring funds meant to help vulnerable families with basic food and shelter needs. The Department of Human Services proposed to use those funds —stimulus dollars from TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — for other important purposes, including upgrading its case management system and expanding employment and training options for TANF recipients."
Fenty and Co. might have had the support of extending the summer job's program if homeless services weren't so badly in need.
City Desk has heard reports of homeless families having to be put up in hotels or sleep in cars because D.C. General's emergency is filled up. The number of homeless families has reached unprecedented levels. On Aug. 2, Marta Beresin, a lawyer with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, testified at the hearing on the SYEP funding:
"As of two weeks ago, 543 families were on the wait list for emergency shelter, 27 of whom were sleeping in cars, bus stations, and other places not meant for human habitation....Since 2008, when the recession first hit, family homelessness has skyrocketed by 36.3 percent in the District...At this time last year there were 35 families at D.C. General, the overflow emergency shelter for families. Today, there are 135 and every unit has been full for many weeks."
The legal clinic has more details on the plight of homeless families on their new blog. City Desk caught up with Armeen Payne, 32. He became homeless on July 14. For nearly two weeks, he says, he and his two kids ages 2 and 4, were left to fend for themselves, knocking on neighbors' doors for places to stay. District social services workers told them the shelters were filled up. Some days, they walked to museums downtown or sat under a tree. Strangers gave them water. Payne's kids napped on buses or wherever they happened to be.
Most of the time, Payne and his kids hunted for shelter.
"It was miserable especially with the heat index as high as it was," he says. "It was just very hectic with the heat alone. I'm glad it was more of the heat to a certain degree than the cold winter days you know? It was very hectic."
All Payne could do was wait for shelter beds to open up. "I was well over qualified for being in the shelter with my kids," he says. "I understand that there's conditions and policies and processes and how you go about doing things. I try to be so patient with that. But it was just too much."
Payne says: "I dealt with it the best way I could with the kids. I was more concerned with one of them falling out or just maybe frustrated with me and resenting me because we're just walking around, trying to find shade, you know kill time. Hoping that I'll get a call or some luck."
Payne found old neighbors willing to house them. He had food stamps; his extended family did provide them with an occasional hot meal. Payne says he was recently able to move his family into D.C. General. But he'd really like a job.
"I like driving jobs," he says. "I want to be a limousine driver, and one day own my own limousine company. I'm pursuing getting my license...because my license expired."
*file photo by Darrow Montgomery.