D.C. shelter system over hot weekend left homeless family feeling out in cold

By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If only Brigette Roberts' life had fallen apart at a more convenient hour.

Say, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

But the truth was, things got horrible Saturday night, at a time when lots of bad stuff goes down, and she learned there is little comfort for a homeless family at that hour in the nation's capital.

All Roberts and her sweaty, tear-streaked-face family got when they showed up at one of the city's emergency shelters for families this past weekend was a cigarette, a bottle of water and a pair of used baby shoes.

The security guard at the shuttered D.C. General Hospital that now functions as a shelter for families said the facility couldn't take Roberts, her pregnant daughter and her chubby, drooling 9-month-old grandson, Anthony.

"You need your referral faxed over," he said.

The office that does this is open only during the week.

"But sir, I've got my grandbaby. And he's sick. We don't have anywhere to go. We were just put out tonight," Roberts pleaded.

"I'm sorry. It's not hypothermia season. If we were in hypothermia, I'd have to let you in," he said. He tried to be nice about it. But rules are rules.

"This is the third time I've had to do this to a family," he told them.

Had it been 32 degrees, the Roberts family would have had a place to spend the night. The District's Winter Plan mandates that shelters and emergency housing admit all walk-ins when the temperature plummets.

On Friday, during a D.C. Council hearing, advocates for the homeless testified that extreme heat is as dangerous as extreme cold and that emergency housing should be a human right in the nation's capital on such nights.

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