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Shelters Fear Service Cuts in Winter

As winter approaches, homeless advocates say they may have to close fully occupied shelters because of budget cuts. The trims could force as many as 2,100 homeless people to find new shelters.

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By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

With cold weather approaching, providers of shelter for the homeless say they might have to close some fully occupied facilities if the city follows through on its plan to cut their budgets by an average of 30 percent.

They are concerned they might have to transfer as many 2,100 people to other shelters, including the D.C. General family shelter site operated by the city, which is considered a last resort for people who have no other choice but the streets.

Federal law requires the District to shelter everyone who needs a bed during the hypothermia season, Nov. 1 to March 31, but providers contend that they cannot keep their facilities open in the face of severe funding cuts from the Department of Human Services.

"At several shelters, we are already turning away people because there is no room -- and the cold weather has not even set in yet," said Edward Orzechowski, president of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

The city budget cuts come at a time of 11.2 percent unemployment in the District and the metro area's highest mortgage delinquency rate in years. Individual and corporate giving to agencies for the needy also has declined.

City leaders plan to meet Wednesday to finalize a plan to house the homeless this winter. Over a three-year stretch earlier this decade, nearly a dozen people died of hypothermia when they did not find shelter.

Clarence Carter, director of D.C.'s Department of Human Services, which oversees homeless services, said that officials met with providers in September and told them that every homeless person will have a bed through March.

"We thought we had explained this to the providers, so they would not have sounded this alarmist bell," he said.

But providers believe that more than 2,100 homeless families and individuals, including some who are mentally disabled, would lose apartments or beds if the cuts to their budgets are not restored, according to a statement last week by a coalition of shelter providers. They include Catholic Charities, House of Ruth, New Hope Ministries, Coalition for the Homeless and Community of Hope.

"This cut would be devastating to the safety net, especially during these difficult economic times," the organizations said.

Last week, the Community of Hope put a letter in the mailboxes of residents at the Hope Apartments, a transitional housing facility, on Girard Street in Columbia Heights. "I just read . . . 'budget cut' and 'may be closing,' " said Stephanie Chase, a 31-year-old mother of two. Chase and her neighbors worried about the implications: 100 adults and 75 children would have to pack and move out.

"It is so horrible to imagine what would happen," Chase said.


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