It’s a new school year for Sarah Jones’* five kids – her eldest daughter just started her senior year of high school, her son is in 11th grade, her middle daughter is in 7th grade, and her two youngest are beginning their 4th and 5th grade years – yet they start each school day at a bus station. Ms. Jones’ family is homeless, but despite more than 80 empty shelter units for families, the District government is refusing to shelter the family. Ms. Jones is very proud of her kids and it’s important to her that they not miss a day of school. Each morning, the family gets up at 5:30am and walks to a nearby McDonald’s where they wash up. Then they head out to school—imagine waking up for school at a bus station.
The Jones family has been homeless and without a safe place to sleep since May. DC has chosen to only provide shelter to families when it is legally required to do so, which in the District is only on winter days when the temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit including the wind chill.
After ten years in their apartment, the Jones family lost the only home most of the kids had ever known. Ms. Jones lost her job and could no longer pay the rent. When she couldn’t find another job, Ms. Jones and her children moved in with the children’s grandmother, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Southwest DC. They lived in these cramped conditions for several months until the grandmother had to make them leave or risk eviction herself.
Ms. Jones applied for shelter at the District’s intake site for homeless families, the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, but was denied placement despite having no place to stay. Her Councilmember’s office told her their hands were tied. “There are no families getting shelter this summer” is a line she has heard over and over again. One Council staffer suggested that she ask Child Protective Services to place her children in foster care so they would have somewhere safe to sleep, but Ms. Jones knows that the trauma of breaking up her family would be even worse than their current struggle. “How could anyone think it a positive thing for children to be separated from their mother?” Ms. Jones asked, “I refuse to have my family torn apart when all we need is a roof over our heads.”
What’s most frustrating to Ms. Jones – as well as to community members and advocates concerned about these issues – is that as of August 29, there were 88 vacant rooms at DC’s main emergency family shelter, DC General. Families like the Jones’ family which are sleeping in unsafe situations, should get placed into housing or the units sitting vacant at DC General today. If you agree, email Mayor Gray at email@example.com and let him know that you think NO kids should be going home to a bus station at the end of the school day.
*Names have been changed because the family risks a referral to CPS by coming forward to tell their story.