For some D.C. homeless families, rec centers are only refuge
Brigid Schulte reports:
Ten homeless families have been staying on cots at a D.C. recreation center during the most recent cold snap, city census records show, including 14 adults and 17 children. City officials have described the rec centers as “congregate” settings with makeshift cots lined up in a large open area and the only privacy in nearby bathrooms, much like the Red Cross provides after natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods.
In the wake of an explosion of city homelessness – a projected 100 percent increase over last year — city officials say they have no other option than to provide shelter in rec centers. They are not releasing the names of the rec centers to protect the privacy of the families, they said.
The District is one of only a handful of jurisdictions nationwide, including New York and the state of Massachusetts, that gives residents a legal right to shelter on nights when temperatures drop below freezing.
More than 700 D.C. families are now in emergency shelters. Nearly 300 are staying at DC General, the city’s family homeless shelter. Children have few places to play inside the shelter, and no place to play outside, save for a parking lot and a sidewalk near a meth clinic, said Jamila Larson, with the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project.
“A snow day for kids at the shelter isn’t the same as a snow day for most kids,” she said. “They have nothing to do.” Her group brought activity packets to snowed-in children at DC General on Thursday.
More than 450 families, including more than 800 children, are sheltered in low-cost hotels in the District and Maryland. D.C. began placing homeless families in rec centers after coming to an agreement recently with officials in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties that they would no longer send homeless families into Maryland.