Housing Complex

Nonexistent Home Not in D.C.? Don’t Come Here.

Conditions at D.C. General Hospital last winter.

Conditions at D.C. General Hospital last winter.

Councilmember Tommy Wells is holding a roundtable on the District's plan for housing the homeless this winter, and just dropped a not-actually-surprising statistic: According to a survey of D.C.'s shelter population, approximately ten percent of our homeless individuals are most recently from outside the District.

At a time when the city is trying to cut $175 million from the fiscal 2011 budget, they're not wanted. Wells says that he's considering legislation to restrict homeless services to people who, when they last lived somewhere, lived outside the city. Clarence Carter, the director of the Department of Human Services, vigorously agreed.

"The District does not have the resources to share its compassion with the nation," he said. "I think it is absolutely appropriate for us to be very jealous about reserving these resources for District residents."

What's more, Wells has reason to believe that surrounding jurisdictions are directing their homeless to D.C., where they might be able to find a place to sleep for the night. Recently, he said, a mother and her six children arrived in his office, saying someone in Prince Georges County directed her to D.C. Wells put them in a hotel room using his constituent services fund, and noted that every councilmember has done the same, but that's obviously not a sustainable strategy.

Trying to screen homeless people by last residence, however, might not be a workable strategy either. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled on equal protection grounds that neither the states nor D.C. could deny people welfare benefits on the grounds that they had not resided there for at least a year (one of the plaintiffs in the case was a Washingtonian who tried to move back to the District in 1966 and couldn't get assistance for her children). Justice William O. Brennan wrote:

The purpose of inhibiting migration by needy persons into the State is constitutionally impermissible.

This Court long ago recognized that the nature of our Federal Union and our constitutional concepts of personal liberty unite to require that all citizens be free to travel throughout the length and breadth of our land uninhibited by statutes, rules, or regulations which unreasonably burden or restrict this movement.

More fundamentally, a State may no more try to fence out those indigents who seek higher welfare benefits than it may try to fence out indigents generally. Implicit in any such distinction is the notion that indigents who enter a State with the hope of securing higher welfare benefits are somehow less deserving than indigents who do not  take this consideration into account. But we do not perceive why a mother who is seeking to make a new life for herself and her children should be regarded as less deserving because she considers, among others factors, the level of a State's public assistance. Surely such a mother is no less deserving than a mother who moves into a particular State in order to take advantage of its better educational facilities.

(Thanks, @oblivious_dude!)

Comments

  1. #1

    A former head of the DC Department of HHS once said that we did not have residency requirements for social services, including drug treatment, housing and some medical care---so other jurisdictions would tellt their overflow to come to Washington DC.

  2. #2

    Well time to use that "we're not a State" thing for our own benefit.

    And its a longstanding fact that surrounding jurisdictions have much more miserly welfare programs than DC, thus DC tends to absorb their homeless and destitute. I think Jaffe and Sherwood wrote about this in Dream City and in some other articles back in the 90's...

    Also, its often illegal to loiter, camp, and panhandle in surrounding areas, so by default homeless will come into DC as these things are not only legal but often facilitated (see debate and quotes from Barry on Franklin Homeless Shelter on why closing it would be bad for the panhandlers).

  3. #3

    Let's do the New York strategy and provide transportation back to where they came, preferably their local seat of government. I have no problem w/ my tax dollars supporting DC residents that have fallen on hard times, but to take on the burden of surrounding jurisdictions that refuse to support their own is unacceptible

  4. #4

    Wouldn't this court ruling make out-of-state tuition illegal, too?

  5. #5

    Did he say "jealous" or "zealous"?

  6. #6

    I wonder if that court ruling would be upheld today.

  7. #7

    The irony of Wells using "constituent services" funds for people admittedly *not* constituents. Figures.

    Are we really surprised that DC has become a magnet for the homeless? Is throwing more services at them that just perpetuates the status quo going to change that?

  8. #8

    What, Jason Cherkis didn't write this? I'm shocked.

  9. #9

    I'd argue that the percentage is considerably higher than ten percent. Many of those around the National Mall and White House came here because this is the nations capital and the computer chip in their brain told them they had to speak with the President, not because they wanted to be DC residents.

    And, yes, the suburbs have been directing their homeless (and their public housing population) to DC for decades. Not a big secret.

    It's time we started demanding more from them, even if the only real weapon we have is embarrassment.

  10. #10

    The other problem is all those suburban churches that come down to hand out food in the downtown parks. Sure it makes them feel better, and it helps feed the homeless, but it also conveniently encourages the homeless *not* to hang out in those churches' towns. I doubt that that is their intention, but it's the result nonetheless.

  11. #11

    In tuition, the issue is bonified residence. below is the overview of VLANDIS v. KLINE ET AL. 412 U.S. 441, the Supreme Court case on the issue.

    OVERVIEW: Two students who had recently established residency in Connecticut brought suit against the state under § 1983, alleging that the provisions of 1971 Conn. Pub. Acts § 126(a), which created an irrebuttable presumption of nonresidency for purposes of determining tuition between residents and non-residents in the state's universities, violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court found the definition of residency in 1971 Conn. Pub. Acts § 126 to be unconstitutional, and the state sought review. The Court held that, because the state purported to be concerned with residency in allocating the rates for tuition and fees in its university system, the state was forbidden by the Due Process Clause to deny an individual the resident rates on the basis of a permanent and irrebuttable presumption of nonresidence when that presumption was not necessarily or universally true in fact and when the state had reasonable alternative means of making the crucial determination. Rather, due process required that the state allow such an individual the opportunity to present evidence showing that he was a bona fide resident entitled to the in-state rates.

    OUTCOME: The Court affirmed the decision of the district court.

  12. #12

    One of the benefits of being mortal humans is that eventually we die and inane court decisions can and often change with new appointees. Actaully, a little work by our lazy city employees and inept council membewrs could change the law.

    If not, then DC voters need to remove these fools from the city payroll. Otherwise, DC residents need to shut up and live with what they elect and continue to pay for their foolishness.

  13. #13

    What Carter said was that 10% of APPLICANTS for shelter were last in another jurisdiction. That doesn't mean they got services here. DC actually does have a resident law and it does screen out other people. It's ludicrous to use one anecdote as a basis for putting in place a law that has the potential to do a lot of harm to pple in desperate need of services.

    Many people who are homeless may have lived in DC all their lives and then moved to Maryland or VA to stay with friends or family when they couldn't afford their home. It is unconstitutional to deny pple the right to travel freely, and Wells' proposal is nothing short of idiotic discrimination. Mr Carter has been very clear at previous hearings that there is no indication that people from other jurisdictions have been using DC services. This swift turn in position is simply a ploy by the administration and the Council to justify significantly cutting funding to Human Services at a time when more than 1 in 4 DC children live in poverty. As a DC resident, stories like these incense me.

  14. #14

    @james,

    Horse-pucky. What comes across again, and again, and again in every single study is that those poor who rise into the middle-class move to the suburbs, and those who fall out of the middle-class move into DC for the generous services. MD and VA have been benefiting from DC's status as "dumping-ground" for the region's social-ills for the last half-century.

    Sorry, as a DC resident (and taxpayer) I'm more than willing to extend a hand to my fellow man, but--especially in the absence of a commter tax--I'm sure as Hell not willing to clean up the mess from MD and VA by importing *their* poor.

    Time for them to grow up and take responsibility for their people.

Leave a Comment

Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.
...