“The city is changing, and we are being left behind,” the families said.
A worker paid minimum wage would have to work 132 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Washington these days, said Patty Mullahy Fugere of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. “The Gray administration is not acknowledging that reality.”
Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is proposing that the mayor’s proposal be stripped from the budget and considered as separate legislation.
“None of the stakeholders were consulted on the substance of these proposals,” he said. “There may be things we want to embrace. There may be things we want to change. But we should at least have public input.”
David Berns, director for the district’s Department of Human Services, said the administration chose to change the law through the budget rather than a lengthy and contentious legislative process because the situation is dire.
“We have a great sense of urgency,” Berns said. “We have 280 or so families at D.C. General and another 140 sitting in hotels. They’re languishing. Until we can get this reform through and get the authority to use rapid rehousing for them, they’re going to be there, and we’ll have no capacity in our system to place other families.”
One homeless family living at D.C. General costs the city about $50,000 every year, he said. That same amount of money could be used to provide stable housing for at least three families.
Berns said 80 percent of the city’s homeless population could be shifted into a rapid rehousing program and that 91 percent of those who have already been rehoused in low-cost apartments remained in stable housing after one year.
Homeless families like Edwards’ worry that the rapid rehousing program only lasts four months, and if they can’t get back on their feet by then, they’ll be back on the street and, with the reforms, with only a short stay available at the shelter.
But Berns said the rehousing program can be extended indefinitely for occupants if necessary.
“Once you’re in your own housing, you have a much greater chance of getting a job, paying rent, becoming stable,” Berns said. “It’s almost impossible to get a job when you’re in a shelter. You have to do the housing first.”