Digging Deep into Issues

The Washington Post reported recently that one out of every three Washingtonians have marched in protest since January.  Issues on the National scene have provided many issues worthy of protest, for and against.  Related issues in the city are often used as examples of what will happen if certain legislation is enacted or repealed. However, we seldom look deeply at decisions currently under consideration by local elected officials that also will have a profound effect on the poor and marginalized, here and now.  The extension of benefits for families receiving assistance through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program in the last Council session, for example, caused barely a ripple and was not reported at length in the Washington Post until a month after its passage.

Coming in September, the Council will take action on the Homeless Services Reform Act Amendments 2017 (HSRA), legislation that will profoundly affect families living in shelter.  HSRA contains the regulations and procedures that dictate how homeless services are delivered in the city.  Three changes are proposed.  The most problematic is authorization for the city to time-limit family participation in the Rapid Re-Housing program (RRH).  RRH is the city exit program from shelter that places families in apartment housing for up to one year with the family paying 30-40% of the rent and the city paying the rest.  The “rest” can be substantial as the median market rent for a two bedroom apartment is over $3000.  During this period the family will receive services that will enhance their capacity to pay the full rent after the year.

In the proposed changes the city could cut off rent assistance for families after one year even if it is clear that they can’t assume the full rent.  Since 70% of the families in shelter receive TANF benefits as their only income ($576 per month) and the increase in income for families in the RRH program year is reported at $64 per month, it is hard to see how they can possibly pay full market rent.  A limited number of rental vouchers for longer term assistance are available, but the availability does not nearly match the need.  Solution?  Longer term rental vouchers could be an answer, but some feel they are too expensive in the long term.  Others fear that they inhibit family initiative and self-reliance.  Whatever the solution, and there has to be one, expelling families from time-limited housing more than likely dooms many to living in unsafe conditions or short-term with family and friends, with homelessness always on the horizon.  And no stability for the children. We can and must do better.

Digging deep into this issueSet Up to Fail – Rapid Re-Housing in the District of Columbia.  Max Tipping, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. May 2017.

Shelter Census, June 27, 2017: 713 families with 1433 children resided in shelter or transitional housing on this date.  948 single men and women also resided in shelters.
                                                                    IN THE NEWS

SPREAD THE MESSAGE OF UNITY AND FRIENDSHIP IN OUR COMMUITY. Walk down Massachusetts Ave. with your neighbors, visiting more than 10 houses of worship and other religious centers in a public celebration of solidarity and friendship among different faiths and cultures in our diverse community. Sunday, September 10, 2017. Opening ceremony at Washington Hebrew Congregation, 1:30 PM with concluding ceremony at the Islamic Center of Washington at 5 PM. Additional information and registration: InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington or unitywalk@ifcmw.org.

GOOD FAITH COMMUNITIES COALITION ANNUAL MEETING: Sunday, October 29, 2017 at 2 PM at Temple Micah.  Keynote Speaker:  Jean-Michel Giraud, President and CEO, Friendship Place. Friendship Place is a pioneer in cost-effective, permanent and rapid solutions to homelessness.  We look forward to this presentation on programs that work to end homelessness.  More information:  goodfaithdc@gmail.com.

Point in time count 2017.  Fact Sheet.

Newsletter current and previous.
Biblical Roots of Justice – Foundation of the Journey for Justice:  an interfaith conversation on homelessness and the Journey for Justice for our neighbors who are without homes (10 minutes).