February 17, 2013

Regarding Petula Dvorak’s Feb. 9 Metro column, “600 homeless children in a D.C. shelter, and no one seems to care”:

Despite my 25-plus years in the affordable housing industry, I was shocked to learn there are 600 homeless children in the District. As Ms. Dvorak pointed out, they are many reasons for the homelessness of the parents — recession, bad decisions, worse luck, poor planning, low wages, ignorance, etc. — but the children are blameless. A homeless shelter is not a home and should not be seen as the solution.

Every day our political leaders seem to make decisions that exacerbate homelessness, such as the ones that have led to the mind-blowing sequestration debacle. Every member of Congress should leave the comfort of his or her warm and cozy office to visit the shelter in the old D.C. General Hospital building and see the real consequences of their inaction.

Denise B. Muha, Washington

The writer is executive director of the National Leased Housing Association.

There’s a big problem in the District, and you could see it for yourself below the fold on the front of the Feb. 12 Metro section. One headline proclaimed: “D.C.: Where 14% are in the nation’s top 5% in income.” Directly beneath it was Petula Dvorak’s column, “Working together, we can help the District’s homeless children,” referring to the 600 living in a D.C. shelter.

In the story, the head of the D.C. Board of Trade is quoted as saying, “I’d rather be at the top than at the bottom, so it’s mostly good.” This report, according to William Frey of the Brookings Institution, reminds us how well the area did during the recession: “It may make a lot of residents perk up and give them a sense of how much better we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Dvorak related some of the responses she has received since she first wrote about the children in the shelter: “I am appalled and embarrassed for our nation’s capital.” “This is Washington. How can this be?” “That almost made me puke.”

The big problem is not so much that a small number of people in the D.C. area are making a lot of money; it’s that many of us fail to notice the large number who are not. It takes the shocking image of children living in terrible conditions to remind us that the term “we” includes those of us who are doing just fine and a lot more of us who are not.  

Kathie Hepler, Washington