By Nassim Moshiree, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Staff Attorney
Responding to the community’s concerns, Councilmember Wells pulled the emergency bill at yesterday’s legislative meeting. In its stead, he has introduced a permanent version of the legislation that he said he will move quickly through the Council process. Co-sponsors of his new bill (B18-1059) include Councilmembers Catania, Bowser, and Michael Brown. Mr. Wells’ stated reasons for pulling the emergency bill are to ensure greater discussion on this issue and to prevent unintended consequences. From the dais yesterday, Mr. Wells correctly raised the concern that the city is facing a crisis and is unprepared to serve District residents in need of shelter this winter. The reasons for this are plenty and varied: repeated funding cuts to homeless services; the disparate impact of the recession on the District, where more than 1 in 4 children lives in poverty; a growing shortage of affordable housing; a lack of funding for emergency rental assistance to prevent people from losing their homes…and the list goes on.
Rather than proposing to address these causes of the current shelter crisis, Mr. Wells instead proposed — now on a permanent basis — to weaken the District’s commitment to life-saving hypothermia shelter. Eliminating the requirement for apartment-style shelter for families and imposing onerous verification requirements in order for DC residents to access life-saving shelter and services will likely have grave consequences this winter. Though we haven’t yet seen the language of the permanent bill, as we’ve heard it described the legislation still puts District residents in harm’s way…based on assumptions that are rooted in tenuous and conflicting numbers about who seeks – and who is served in – DC’s shelters.
Because the proposal is now to be considered as permanent legislation, the Committee on Human Services must hold a hearing or public roundtable during which these issues can be fleshed out. We haven’t heard a firm date, but there’s an indication the hearing may be on November 8th. We need you to continue to express your concerns to Mr. Wells and others. Make sure he hears again – and again and again and again – that you don’t want the District of Columbia to be a community that literally shuts your neighbors out in the cold. As the mercury drops, tragedy lurks around the corner. District residents deserve better than that.
See Tommy Wells’ complete statement from pulling the emergency bill, and WLCH Executive Director, Patty Mullahy Fugere’s comment.
Additional information will be posted on this blog as soon as we have specifics about the legislative language and hearing date/time. In the meantime, if you would like to get more direct updates about this legislation and opportunities for advocacy, please contact Nassim Moshiree at firstname.lastname@example.org.