The District is facing a “severe crisis” of family homelessness in the midst of this year’s cold snap. A recent Washington Post piece confirms what many of us poverty advocates have long known: that there are many more homeless families than there are shelters to house them. With D.C. General, the District’s primary family shelter, full, two DC recreation centers are now serving as emergency family shelters.
The numbers of homeless families in the District are only going up. This year, it appears that the city will see a 100% increase in family homelessness – much more than the 10% increase that was anticipated.
Homelessness has many causes everywhere, and the District’s crisis is doubtless the result of multiple factors. A recent study in Milwaukee highlights the relationship between evictions and other “involuntary displacements” and homelessness. It finds that one in eight Milwaukee renters last moved as a result of an eviction or other involuntary displacement. Among black renters, the number was one in seven and among Hispanic renters, one in four.
Once homeless, families in the District face a steep climb back to stable housing. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of affordable housing units in the District was cut in half. The waiting list for long-term federal housing subsidies offered by the D.C. Housing Authority currently includes over 60,000 individuals and families, many of whom are homeless.
In addition, because of federal budget cuts, the Housing Authority currently is not issuing new vouchers – even when families currently in the program leave – eliminating a critical avenue out of shelters and into stable living situations. While the District’s Rapid Re-Housing program offers short-term subsidies with possible extensions, it does not provide a solution for low-income families facing long-term affordability challenges – a shortcoming that Legal Aid has previously highlighted.
As all of these news reports highlight, essential, urgent questions of how to confront the simultaneous crises of insufficient affordable housing, insufficient shelter options, and a dramatic rise in homeless families confront the D.C. government. Legal Aid sees the effects of these crises in our clients’ lives every day.