D.C. Homeless Brace for Budget Cuts to Services

By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Come back tomorrow," the people manning the front desk at the family housing center told the homeless parents holding a 6-month-old baby.

"Come back later, you're okay for tonight," they said to the pregnant woman with three children.

"Ugh. They told me to come back again," Marquita Bline told me. She has been sleeping, with her 4-year-old boy, on the floors and couches of various friends, acquaintances, distant family members -- anyone, really -- while she waits on a list for some kind of housing assistance.

There are about 400 homeless families in the District in need of temporary shelter, according to the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and this is what some of them are told when they go to the city's Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, where Bline was rejected for emergency housing Monday afternoon, shuffling slowly in red fuzzy flip-flops, her head down, back to the bus stop.

This has been Bline's routine for almost a month, she said, ever since she lost her office job at a hospital.

At the very moment of Bline's deep despair, across town at the Wilson Building, the head of the city's Department of Human Services said before a microphone and cameras that nothing has changed, that funding is steady for homeless services and programs will remain robust.

His declarations were greeted with howls of derision from the homeless mothers and children who packed Monday's hearing.

Many of them received letters last week from the city's shelter providers warning of sudden and deep cuts coming this fall that will force the nonprofit groups to cut beds and programs.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he believes that the cuts could be as much as $20 million -- a figure disputed by the director of the city's Department of Human Services, Clarence Carter, who insisted it's more like $900,000.

Regardless of what the real figure is, the people who spend all day trying to help the homeless say things are getting bad.

Ricardo Flores, director of advocacy at the Latin American Youth Center, said he is already having to cut the programs that help young families get back on their feet, and he'll be able to offer nothing more than a temporary roof over some heads.

At least he can say that.

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