City Desk

Save Our Safety Net Back Up And Fighting

After a short hiatus during the recent campaign season, Save Our Safety Net is back up and fighting. The group's latest issue: taking on Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells' bill that would restrict homeless services to only District residents. The Safety Netters show that there's more to this bill than the residency requirement.

Citing the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, the org writes that the bill:

"*Requires verification of DC residency before one can access emergency shelter or almost any other homeless service, including winter shelter, outreach, Housing First, meal programs and crisis intervention services, and defines residency more narrowly than any other program in DC.

*Attempts to exclude a) those who seek “low barrier” shelter (which does not include any family shelters or “severe weather” shelters), as well as b) applicants to shelter who are victims of “domestic abuse, sexual assault, or human trafficking” (but provides no information on how a person would verify such exemption prior to receiving services), from residency requirements during severe weather only.

*Eliminates the longstanding health and safety protections for families with minor children by removing the requirement in the winter that family shelter be “apartment-style.” Removes any limit on the number of families that can be placed together in one room with communal sleeping, eating, and bathroom facilities.

*Bill 18-1059 would increase the burden on the agencies that provide shelter, increase the cost per client the agencies serve, and would open DC up to lawsuits. But the most troubling, is that DC would leave individuals and families who can not prove residency out in the cold, even at risk of hypothermia."

I assume that Save Our Safety Net is gonna want their capes back from Wells, Barry and others who support this legislation.

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  • IMGoph

    i completely understand, and approve of disagreeing with a politician over their stance on an individual piece of legislation.

    but i seriously hope they would not "want their capes back from wells"

    far too often, progressive groups shoot themselves in the foot by not realizing how important it is to have friends in high places.

    sure, they might not agree with tommy on this, and they should certainly fight for what they believe in, but in the end, tommy wells is the best friend progressive voices have on the council. would they rather have a council full of jack evans or yvette alexander?

  • downtown rez

    I hope Wells office responds to this and to the original Legal Clinic for the Homeless press release on which it is based.
    My sense is that there must be a reasonable way to move forward and pass a bill that achieves the stated intent of his legislation.

  • downtown rez

    I also believe that Legal Clinic for the Homeless, an advocacy group, is rather... zealous and one sided in their presentation of facts.
    So I hope and trust it's not too much trouble for Well's or other supporters of this bill to rebut their statements or make reasonable changes to accommodate any good points they do raise.

  • DCDem

    This legislation seems to be the same type that NOVA used to minimize its "homelessness" problem. They pay for their own and nobody elses.

  • John

    Yay! And then they can advocate for all thos "gym tax" increases to pay the costs of being the Metro region's "Homeless Hotel".

    After all, there is simply no limit to the amount of other people's money they will spend to support their principles and courage of their convictions. Sadly, Jason will will cheer them on from his CP columns.

  • Rick Mangus

    More liberal dribble and crap from the phony journalist! Hey Jason, when are you going to fess-up and come clean that you're a fraud!

  • Jason Cherkis

    John, the city already is putting homeless families in hotels.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Downtown Rez: I get what your saying about the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. But as their firm's title suggests, they really are the only lawyers on the homeless beat and know more about this issue then anyone else in the city. If it wasn't for them, the overcrowding problems at D.C. General would be a lot worse.

    I still want to know where the city gets its 10 percent figure for the number of families seeking shelter from outside the city.

  • John

    Jason: Are you being willfully obtuse? By "regional Homeless Hotel" I'm pretty obviously sarcastically stating we shouldn't be paying to be the hotel for _the region's_ homeless population, just our own from DC.

    I know, I know..."how heartless". Here, just take my wallet want my account number to raid the bank while you are at it?

  • Jason Cherkis

    John, I just read your comment too quickly. Again, I'm a little skeptical that the District is serving as the region's homeless hotel. It just seems like a red herring to me. Why focus on this now? All the sudden did homeless residents from VA start showing up? It's pretty difficult to get any services out of the Virginia Williams Resource Center now whether you are a District resident or not.

  • megan

    Jason, the 10% figure comes from applicants who attempt to get shelter through the Virginia Williams shelter.

    Residency of a homeless person is such a strange concept. If they are here now, and they'll sleep on the streets of DC if they dont get shelter, who cares that they started the day in Maryland?

  • nwdc

    Jason - for the stats on out of state applications, watch the testimony from Monday's hearing, beginning at 2:07. Per the testimony, in July-August, Virginia Williams took in 392 applications, including 89 from families identifying as having an origin outside of the District (23%), including 62 applications from families from Maryland.

  • Rick Mangus


  • John

    @Megan: No. You do what Maryland did. Hand over cab or metro fare and send them back to the office in MD.

  • Mister Goat

    @John: "Send them back to the office in MD"? What does "the office" even mean? You can accuse me of being "willfully obtuse" like Jason if you like, but your comment makes no sense.

  • John

    Social services. The folks who are responsible in whatever jurisdiction they come from for homeless services.

  • downtown rez

    In my professional life I have met people who literally traveled the country- going city to city- in an attempt to keep themselves on the rolls for public housing.
    I am not kidding.
    And DC (being DC) is already a national and international magnet for the mentally ill. Many of whom end up genuinely needing public service. I'm also not saying that this is relatively common but, in a country of over 300 million, only a relatively very (very!) few need do this in order to totally overwhelm any extraordinarily lenient jurisdiction.
    Even though, traveling city to city isn't the norm, raising this helps make the larger point that it's foolish not to harmonize the availability of any commodity (like homeless services) across a region.
    Virginia and Maryland are spitting distance from us. I know for a fact that a number of fake "homeless" "Vietnam war vets" live in the 'burbs and come downtown each day to panhandle. It shouldn't be such a leap to realize that people will travel if it suits their needs.
    I don't want to hurt anyone. But I don't think DC residents should be taken advantage of, either. It's not like we're in a position to afford it.

  • Hillman

    I have a younger brother that is homeless about half the time.

    He has spent years forum shopping for localities that will provide him the most benefits with the least amount of questions asked and requirements.

    For instance, he lived for several years in San Francisco, primarily because they started the program where the homeless were actually given weekly checks. And they passed the law saying homeowners couldn't make a homeless person move if that person took up residence in their front yard or on their front porch.

    SF made that city a massive destination point for homeless from the entire country.

    DC does the same, to a lesser extent.

    We've created a 'keep the homeless visible downtown' mantra that means police turn a blind eye to homeless crimes, from the petty urinating in public to blatant drug dealing and use.

    We've created feeding programs so the homeless literally don't have to leave the park to get hot food.

    We have darn few actual requirements that they try to better themselves with rehab programs or work training.

    So, yes, we get the homeless from many locations migrating to DC.

    It's sad, really. Particularly for the families. Because of ill-informed idealists like Jason we create a haven for homelessness here. But we don't do much to actually help them. We have terrible schools that their children must attend, pretty much guaranteeing a high percentage of them will end up in prison. We don't require or even really encourage real rehab or job training.

    But, hey. The political cause of keeping a homeless presence in public spaces is sure doing well.

  • Typical DC BS

    Bravo Hillman! I think the majority of DC residents (as well as most people in general) agree that helping the homeless is a worthwhile use of resources. BUT, expectations MUST be raised that it's NOT acceptable to remain homeless for extended periods of time. The variety of problems the "homeless" exhibit makes a "one solution fits all" approach doomed to failure.

    I wish I knew what could be done to provide a carrot and stick approach that would help move the majority of the homeless back into society's mainstream.

  • John

    @Jason: Also, I don't think they "suddenly showed up". I think we suddenly got hit by a recession and a subsequent loss of tax revenues. It's a whole lot easier to be the regional dumping ground when everyone is singing "we're in the money"...people care less about being scammed. When money gets tight, you suddenly start caring.

  • Jason Cherkis

    NWDC: You wrote, "Per the testimony, in July-August, Virginia Williams took in 392 applications, including 89 from families identifying as having an origin outside of the District (23%), including 62 applications from families from Maryland." Just because someone applied for services from MD doesn't mean they got services.

    Downtown Rez: I'm not sure what the solution is. But unlike say DCPS, the city hasn't sought out a best-practice model for dealing with the homeless other than a very underfunded housing-first approach (which has worked extremely well targeting the mentally-ill and/or substance abusers and keeping them off the streets). The city's main solution appears to be warehousing the homeless (see: CCNV and D.C. General). That's not much of a solution. It's pretty safe to say that that model is a very much out of date.

    Shouldn't we look to people like Robert Egger of DC Central Kitchen and others to for those solutions. Egger has managed to turn a simple job training program into a lifeline for hundreds and hundreds of homeless individuals.

    I think in the long run places like DC Central Kitchen and programs like Housing First save the city a lot more money than this proposed residency requirement. The residency requirement will have a minimal effect on the current over-crowding at the city's shelters. The shelters are all at or near capacity. Do you think any of those shelter residents are non-residents at this point? I doubt it.

    The city isn't all that generous in terms of shelter space. We're already at capacity and have closed down a number of facilities in the last few years. The city is very good at providing soup kitchens, etc. But still pretty lousy at providing adequate emergency shelter. D.C. General is pretty far removed from the city and in various stages of disrepair. CCNV? Do you think it has a good rep? A good enough rep to lure in homeless residents from VA and MD?

    So how does this residency requirement solve the capacity issue? It doesn't. It only encourages us to think small about the city's most needy.

  • noodlez




  • noodlez



  • John

    Jason: "So how does this residency requirement solve the capacity issue? It doesn't. It only encourages us to think small about the city's most needy."

    And therein lies the reason why most of public tuned out advocates/activists like you. To an advocate, the issue of residency is a distraction. After all, what does it matter...we must help the needy! If the entire country was proven to be shipping their homeless over, advocates would shrug and continue on.

    To those paying the bills, residency is a required prerequisite _before_ dealing with quality and capacity. There are those who just don't care, but even the middle that does think we should improve things wants them to be improved _for those who qualify_, and don't want to be paying up to alleviate Arlington county's issues, while they skate.

    We non-activists recognize that if even 10% are crossing the border for crappy services, improvements in services will just up that number. And advocates like you will run forth and demand we ignore those increases and build even more capacity, because you really don't care about the issue when it comes down to it, and feel there is no limit to other people's money that can be spent to resolve it.

  • Political Observer

    Imgoph is on point when progressive groups use extreme rhetoric and alienate supporters. You're not going to agree on everything. There's got to be a compromise and while I understand the legal clinic has to make its points it can't be obstinate with an all or nothing stance.

  • nwdc

    Jason: in response to my earlier comment, you wrote "Just because someone applied for services from MD doesn't mean they got services." Okay, the testimony from Monday's hearing was that of the 89 families that applied from out-of-state in July-August 2010: 12 had been placed in shelter, 5 had been placed in transition shelter, 6 had received rental assistance funds, 35 were waiting for shelter, 2 had returned to other states, and 29 had no further contact so the cases had been closed.

    Look, I'm not in favor of the proposal to limit shelter that the Council is considering. But I think that the on-the-ground reality is that the District's right-to-shelter law in the winter, which is unique among any area jurisdiction, along with the recent success of the permanent supportive housing program, has absolutely impacted the number of families seeking shelter from out-of-state.

    So once this proposal before the Council is knocked down, let's work on getting our neighbors to adopt a region-wide strategy that will serve everyone. We should all agree on that, right?

  • Callan

    Ok, so I'm no lawyer or "advocate" (why do people on these comment strings keep using that term like its a bad word?), but I read the Legal Clinic's post and the bill -- I think the most dangerous consequence of Wells' bill (although I've no doubt his intentions are good) is that it will actually stop DC residents from getting resources. It doesn't make sense to ask a homeless person to prove their residency because, well, they're homeless. Right?

    Also, if they're actually going to start checking everyone for docs before they can get shelter, that's going to cost money right? New procedures, doesn't seem smart to do that when we're supposed to be looking for ways to save money. Makes sense to me.

  • megan

    "If the entire country was proven to be shipping their homeless over, advocates would shrug and continue on."

    Yes. I happen to think these things are human rights. It sucks that other jurisdictions dont provide these services, but I am not interested in sending a message to Virginia that only actually punishes people who aren't even in Virginia anymore.

    It'd be great if every state provided the human rights regarding shelter and sustanance that DC provides. But that isn't the country we live in. To me, these things are basic human rights. The rights of everyone -- not just those who were fortunate enough to live in a DC apartment within the last two years before becoming homeless.

    "and feel there is no limit to other people's money that can be spent to resolve it."

    It's my money, too. I'm a DC taxpayer. And I work at a nonprofit that provides services for clients, some of whom are homeless -- because of the job that I've chosen, I make less money than virtually everyone I graduated with. I'm putting my money and my time where my mouth is. Most advocates do.

  • John

    Megan: Thanks for confirming my points.

  • Jason Cherkis

    NWDC: From your stats, it looks like the vast majority of non-residents DID NOT get services. So again, why are we wasting time w/ this bill? The costs are minimal at best. But I do think you are right--as the WaPo editorial suggested recently--there needs to be more regional cooperation. And while were at it, more oversight and accountability on the agency that doles out the funding for homeless services--the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.

    I just thought of this: I don't use MLK Library. But I do go to Arlington's library when I need to do a little research. Should they make it a residency requirement to use their library?

    (OK, I know that point is a little off)....

  • nwdc

    Jason: the vast majority of D.C. residents applying to the family system don't get services either. This doesn't make it right, but I'm guessing that the percentages served are consistent for both residents and non-residents. Because of the restrictions in place of jurisdictions outside of the District, you just aren't going to see comparable percentages of non-resident families served in the systems of, say, Montgomery or Prince George's Counties. And neither of those counties - or anywhere in the metro area, actually - serve anywhere close to the number of families and individuals that the District serves in their system.

    So why is the Council pressing on this? Because the data shows that almost all of the families in the shelter system, once housed, need significant ongoing subsidies that would be paid by the District government indefinitely. And when the money gets tight in the District, legislators start looking for inequities in the system, particularly if there's any whiff that some costs ought to be covered by another jurisdiction.

    Re your Arlington library example, as you acknowledge, that isn't really a good comparison, but no, Arlington shouldn't impose a residency requirement to use the library. All the area libraries should be open to anyone that wants to use them. But there's a point where, if you were paying for the D.C. library to be open to everyone, but you couldn't use anyone else's, I think a reasonable person could question the fairness.

    So sure, it's about regional cooperation. So let's hope that the next WaPo editorial - instead of a weak suggestion that "maybe" area leaders should get together to discuss the issue - might instead ask why everywhere else hasn't followed the District's lead in adopting a right to shelter law in the winter?

  • Typical DC BS

    @Noodlez: Good suggestion. Job training will help, but providing jobs after the training is a problem these days. And what about the folks with mental issues, drug issues, alcohol issues? Homelessness is a big nut to crack.

  • John

    What's sad here is that the activists will overreach again, like they did with the "gym tax" fiasco, and due to the blinders Jason and Megan demonstrate (and SOSN did by refusing to modify their last proposal) nothing will happen. And there is an obvious compromise position.

    1. Do place a residency requirement, but attach a service improvement to the same legislation.
    2. Begin talks for a regional structure to address the jurisdictional issue long term.

    NOTE: By doing the residency requirement you strengthen this action. As long as folks with Megan's view dominate the discussion, there no motivation for the burbs to do anything. Why should they? They can use us as a dumping ground. When people get bounced back they will have motivation to cooperate.

    But, by rejecting the better to demand the perfect, jack nothing will happen instead.