City Desk

New York Times Slams Wells’ Homeless Services Legislation

Today, the New York Times' editorial board took the unusual step of issuing an opinion on a local D.C. issue. The board thoroughly shreds Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells' incredibly lazy proposal to limit homeless services to District residents. If only the Washington Post would be so bold.

Times editorial after the jump.

The Times editorial's first graph pretty much says it all:

"In another example of how budgetary pressures can lead to very bad public policy, the City Council of the District of Columbia is considering turning away homeless people from winter shelters if they cannot show ties to the district through proof of a recent legal address or receipt of public assistance. That would put the lives of many vulnerable people at risk, and it won’t save a dime."

Here's some more of the paper's supreme takedown:

"According to the district’s chief financial officer, the plan would not relieve any budget pressures. The waiting line for space in shelters is always so long that if a family from elsewhere wouldn’t qualify, a family in the district would take its place. But the sponsor of the idea, Councilman Tommy Wells, who leads the human services committee, is wrestling with a $175 million shortfall in the human services budget and is eager to show that he can make tough choices. Tough and inhumane.

Mr. Wells should instead be looking for any help he can find to expand the shelter system — dunning Congress, charitable foundations, local philanthropists. Waiting until someone freezes to death will be too late.

Poverty, hunger and homelessness know no borders. The Supreme Court underscored this truth 41 years ago when it said states can’t adopt policies to restrict the freedom of the poor to travel from one to another, whether pursuing their destiny or survival. If the nation’s capital won’t honor the spirit of the law — and its own statute and long history — all Americans will be shamed."

file photo of D.C. General during last March.

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  • samantha

    The NYT should have lobbied the NYC Mayor and Council to repatriate the thousands of homeless people they dropped on the streets of DC under cloak of darkness over the last three decades because of NYC's inhumanity . Better still, send Bloomberg a bill for 1 Billion for Services Rendered .Due Upon Reciept to DC GOV .

  • Rick Mangus

    Jason Cherkis, still waiting for your answer!

  • John

    Yes, the first graph does say it all. There are DC residents being displaced by outside jurisdictions (Like NY, BTW) dumping their hardships on us. Good thing Tommy is sending them for their jurisdictions to handle, so we can concentrate on our own people. Glad to see you are finally getting it Jason.

    BTW - I assume you only stayed with family and friends on your nice long vacation you just got back from? After all, your money was better spent on that huge donation to DC homeless programs, right?

  • Jason Cherkis

    John: Nice to see you still don't get it. D.C.'s CFO has stated, which the Times quotes, that Wells' legislation will save the city no money. I'd argue that keeping any resident on the street would actually cost the city a lot more in the long run. Not sure why, John, you are being willfully ignorant on this very simple issue.

  • DC Resident

    The fact the NYT doesn't capitalize "district" indicates their lack of understanding that DC is a locality, which takes precedence over being the Nation's Capitol. Wells shouldn't be looking for charitable donations, the advocacy groups should. We've got the Homeless Walk next week. How about an investigative report on the use and effciency of the funds raised?

  • Jason Cherkis

    DC Resident: You make a good point. Wish Wells spent a little more oversight on just what the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness actually does with its funding. As last year's D.C. General fiasco shows, the folks managing that shelter had been bad for years and nothing had been done.

  • Rick Mangus

    Jason Cherkis, I guess we can now lable you a coward as well! Answer my question, because I'm not going anywhere, anytime soon!

  • Lydia

    I read this in the NY times today and was embarrassed to be both a DC resident and a Ward 6 Resident. It saves no money AND it keeps the homeless from being able to access shelter? What in the world is Wells thinking and WHY in God's name did I vote for him?!

  • Sally

    Cherkis - Why are you still here? Go take your bleeding heart where someone cares.

  • Wocka wocka

    Jason, what part of a 175-million dollar budget deficit don't you understand? And have you ever heard the phrase "Greyhound Therapy?" That's where police and social agencies in one jurisdiction give homeless and troubled people a few bucks and a bus ticket out of town, sending them to a place that will house and feed them.

    Such tactics nearly bankrupted "enlightened" cities from Paris to San Francisco, when other places dumped their homeless on them. Given the current economy and the inevitable cutbacks in local budgets, "Greyhound Therapy" is part of the next wave.

    Perhaps you and Lydia and the other well-meaning types can be the ones to tell the DC employees being laid off or the long-time DC residents about to lose THEIR social services that it's because we have to take care of the nation's homeless -- including the John Hinckley types who are drawn to Washington like moths to a light.

    The issue is not so much the homeless who are already here, you nimrods. It's the countless homeless who aren't here yet, but might come or might be send here should we put out the welcome mat. As much as we would like to, we simply cannot handle the nation's homeless problem. We can't even take care of our own. Got that?????

  • downtown rez

    Even if this does not save DC a single cent, I'd argue spending DC tax dollars on DC residents is a valid goal.
    And I don't for a second buy the notion that someone who finds themselves suddenly homeless is unable to provide proof of the location of last residency. Take the previously offered fire example: When fire displaces someone in DC, HSEMA and Red Cross get involved to provide temporary housing. Often the Ward CM and EOM also get involved. There's a huge paper-trail created. And that's outside of the paper-trail that already exists in someone's life. You know, PEPCO, DC Water, Mortgage, Leases, etc...
    IMO it's the people that have chronic issues (mental health + drug/alcohol, etc) and who've bounced around for a while that will not have access to recent receipts, a recent form of identification, proof of recent in-District service, etc.
    And those are exactly the people that are most likely to not have been DC residents in the first place.

  • Rick Mangus

    Still waiting Jason!

  • John

    No Jason, nice to see you still don't get it. The "no savings" finding is based on two things.

    1. We already have a backlog of our own residents, so if you bump the Greyhound Therapy folks you still have a shelter problem.

    2. If do this people like Megan and Jason Chirkis will lead a lawsuit to stop it which will cost money.

    On #1, there are multiple answers. First, we need to expand and improve shelters for residents anyway, so part of this is a non-sequiter. Second, it's a snapshot in time argument rather than a dynamic system view. In fact it does save a lot of money going forward by reducing Greyhound Therapy, as other jurisdictions know they will just get the same people bounced back to them, and folks will not migrate to the jurisdiction with the shiny new shelters.

    On #2, this Supreme Court will probably reverse the earlier case. Also, I find it amusing when advocates (and you ain't an objective journalist Jason, you're an advocate the CP has chosen to ignore j-school ethics requirements and give a platform) act like Mob goons on a protection racket. "Dat's a nice city budget you'ze trying to a shame if someone wuz tooze break it wit a lawsuit."

    In other words, "let me steal your money to do what I want, or I'll sue and cost you money" doesn't exactly make it as a reasonable argument. Plus it's a paper tiger threat way advocates risk the Roberts court overturning that decision.

    Again, as I said in the other thread...the obvious compromise is residency requirement linked to increased and improved capacity. But folks like you and SOSN will overreach and refuse to back down...again, and the whole thing will fail...again.

  • John

    Whoo hoo! Back in moderation again.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Downtown Rez: There's a difference between victims of fires and victims of foreclosure or eviction. As you suggest, fire victims get flooded with services and even attention from local politicians. The families that I met at D.C. General do not have chronic issues with mental illness. They're just victims of a struggling economy. If the city provided better case management--as you might recall, many of the families had to wait months for support--maybe we wouldn't have such a overcrowding issue.

    I think Wells' legislation basically allows the Virginia Williams Resource Center to shut its doors on the homeless if they can't prove they are District residents. That's a tough position to put workers in. It's a tough position for Wells to be in.

    I get that we have a $175 million budget shortfall. But this legislation wouldn't save money. It may in the long run cost the city money--in terms of homeless taking refuge in emergency rooms, and taxing other resources--i.e. police services, mental-health outreach workers, etc. How many more runs will DMH's mobile crisis unit have to make because someone wasn't let into a shelter?

    The biggest stress, the biggest barrier for these residents is housing. The Housing First Program, a great yet-underfunded idea, actually works. It takes the most entrenched homeless and gives them a place to live. And it has worked here and in New York and elsewhere. In the long run, it saves money.

    Need proof, well this Wiki link provides a strong overview of Housing First and its success at cutting costs, etc.:

    But we--or at least several commenters here want to make like Ronald Reagan and demonize anyone who actually speaks up for homeless residents, and, shit, dares to suggest that our services to the poor actually suck.

    And this legislation will only make things worse. If Wells proposal goes through and becomes law, not only will we be put in the position of turning people away, but we will now allow communal shelters. So expect more scenes of homeless families sleeping in hallways and cafeterias. And more places like the out-of-date CCNV. That's far from a best practice model.

    We expect best practices in our school system. We expect our police department to use the latest policing theories and technologies. But when it comes to homeless services, we seem willing to accept the least effective, most inhumane solutions.

  • Rick Mangus

    Jason Cherkis, still waiting!

  • Sally

    The Cherkis solution to homelessness: Tax DC residents even more so that we can provide homeless services to non-DC residents.

    And then act shocked when more and more non-DC residents show up on our doorsteps and demand services. Which, according to the Cherkis view of the world, means we have to be taxed even more to provide these services. Repeat cycle ad nauseum.

    Maybe if we provided the services we can actually afford, we'd have fewer non-DC residents showing up to demand we take care of them too.

    But then poverty pimps like Cherkis would be out of a job.

  • SEis4ME

    Jason, it doesn't seem as if you addressed Drez's point. You rightly state that those at DC General aren't all prone to chronic issues with mental issues. If, as you suggest, they are victims of a struggling economy, shouldn't they be able to provide some sort of identification?

    Seems reasonable to me.

  • John

    And still being hidden in moderation.

  • downtown rez

    Foreclosures and Evictions (the legal evictions, anyway) also generate huge paper trails. I still don't see the barrier in the cases you mention.

  • Jason Cherkis

    That's the thing. I don't think this residency legislation will do much in the way of saving money. I don't think anyone at D.C. General is from out of state. Legal evictions -- there's paper work. But sometimes those evictions don't go through the courts as they should. What do you do if you don't have proof of residency?

    None of you all addressed my points on the Housing First program and our out-of-date shelter system!

  • Rick Magnus

    Rick, he's not answering your question because you are an incredibly annoying human being who asks stupid questions.

  • Skipper

    Jason - Maybe no one addressed your points because they don't care.

  • John

    Jason, I'll address your points when decide to unhide may post.

  • Jason Cherkis

    John: I'm not in charge, obviously, of monitoring posts. I'm not sure why your comment didn't make it in. I'll buzz the web folks.

  • Mike Madden


    Our automated spam filter mistakenly flagged your comment and hid it. I've approved it, and it's now posted.

  • downtown rez

    Can you post a list of specific documents that would be accepted as proof of residency? Is it similar to this list?

  • John

    Okay, to comment on "Housing First".

    Sounds swell. Seriously. Also sounds like if you implement it w/out a residency restriction we'll soon be swimming in the regional homeless diaspora moving to the far more generous program than anything in surrounding jurisdictions. Especially the problem children with drug and alcohol problems who lose access in the other jurisdictions for failing to kick them.

    Again, as I've said over and over a simple compromise solution would be to lobby Tommy to improve service level as part of his bill. You'd get support from people like me on that, as long as you don't demand from us a blank check for the regional diaspora. But again, I have every expectation the activists will demand everything again, and utterly fail again.

  • Brahmin

    When a PG county Councilmember wanted to do campaigning you know where he went --a DC parking lot--because it was well understood that Prince George parents picking their kids up from DC Public Schools used that parking lot.

    For several years PA/VA and MD drug treatment clinics would have maps, bus fare and a guide for their resident to apply to DC services because they were the most open.

    This is about responsibility. Why should those (wealthier by the way), jurisdiction not make the budget and resource allotments to take care of these need. They have to confrot the issue head on.

    And understand this drains resources and cuts the quality of care---you talk about the line still being there...well move DC's people up and let MD, VA and others actually take care of their poor. This practice is degrading what we are able to do to make DC residents whole.

    I am not going to give you a lecture on DC's lack of tax base. I am sure you have heard that the Federal Gov does not by law pay taxes, nonprofits do not pay taxes that includes large universities and these are the prominent employers in DC. A majority of people who work in DC live in surrounding areas and pay not one red cent--but use with full expectation services while here. And you know that DC has a more than 10% unemployment rate. Our resources are FINITE.

  • Bob

    I applaud Councilman Wells' proposal. It's time for Virginia and Maryland to take care of their problems instead of dumping them on the District. One of the things DC does not need is more homeless people.

  • Jason Cherkis

    We have a Housing First program. I don't see anyone complaining about DC or VA residents taking advantage of our program. Again, I think the residency is a red herring. If we actually improved services, increased case management capabilities, we would have a shelters at capacity. I don't know if I'd be in favor of Wells' legislation if services improved. I just don't think there's very little accountability in our the money is spent. I go back to how Families Forward, the nonprofit that ran D.C. General, had been treated. They screwed up multiple times and several councilmembers knew they were a problem. But no one did anything about them until last spring when the shit hit the fan at D.C. General.

    If we actually had oversight over our service providers, we'd probably save more money--a lot more money than this legislation supposedly saves (which is zero according to the CFO).

    Let's face it: We've farmed out much of our social services to private providers. How do they fare? Are they meeting best practice standards? What's the average time someone resides in a shelter, what's the average time a family is in a transitional shelter? What kind of supports are they getting? Do these supports actually work?

    If we don't audit these services, we're gonna be stuck with draconian policies like the one Wells proposed and the one Barry and Alexander proposed today.

  • downtown rez

    In the context of this town the bill Barry and Alexander proposed is pure theater, and even Wells opposes it.
    Are you familiar with the selection process for Housing First?
    Your arguments at times are both specious and spurious.

  • John

    Jason: If residency is such a "red herring" then why are you and other advocates/activists having such a cow over it? By definition, if all of you feel its a non-issue which isn't and never will be a problem, then QED the requirement can't impact anything.