There are about 600, according to a nightly census done by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.
Stop and think about that. Six hundred kids with chubby cheeks and Spider-Man sneakers and Dora hats are beginning their journey in life on an army cot in a cafeteria or an old hospital bed in a city shelter. And that’s an improvement from the time they spent sleeping in cars, bus shelters, Metro stations, apartment-house lobbies or on a different couch every night.
This, of course, is happening in the same city now rolling in a $417 million budget surplus and on track for a $240 million surplus in the coming year.
The last time anyone agonized about a capacity crowd at the D.C. General shelter, it was two years ago and there were about 200 kids there. Where have 400 more homeless kids come from, and who are these families?
There’s Alexia Sullivan, 23, who was a full-time student at Howard University until her life fell apart. She had a baby, and her tuition increased but her scholarships didn’t. She lost her apartment trying to keep up and has been in the shelter with her 1-year-old for two weeks.
And there’s Kevin Cruz, 29, who has been at D.C. General with his wife and baby since Thanksgiving. They’ve been homeless since July, when McDonald’s cut Cruz’s hours until he couldn’t afford his apartment and his wife’s part-time work at Wal-Mart didn’t provide benefits when she had their child.
They didn’t get an emergency cot until that magic number — 32 degrees — signaled the start of hypothermia season and a District law kicked in that mandates emergency shelter for anyone in the winter.
Or there’s another family, too embarrassed to let me use their names. They have a kid in college up in Maine and five younger ones at home — which is now a tiny room in the family shelter.
You think getting a spot at the shelter means a walk on Easy Street? A place for the lazy to get three hots and a cot on the government dime?
No way. This is the place of desperation.
The intake process at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center on Rhode Island Avenue can make it feel harder to get a spot in the shelter than a seat on Air Force One.
The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, whose lawyers spend endless days and late nights wrangling beds for the city’s homeless, issued a report this week on the District’s handling of this growing crisis.
“Of course the root of the whole problem is the severe shortage of affordable housing for low-income families,” said legal clinic lawyer Marta Beresin, who wants “an emergency shelter system for families that you don’t need a lawyer to navigate.”