Brigid Schulte’s article in today’s Washington Post “Homelessness among D.C. families called catastrophic,” is a timely and important report. As a nonprofit organization with 40 years of experience offering shelter, transitional living and positive youth development activities for homeless youth and families in the District, we would like to add several points.
Shulte’s excellent piece quotes the District’s Director of Human Services, David Berns, who noted yesterday that more than 1,000 new homeless families will likely need shelter this winter. With the D.C. General family shelter and hotel rooms already at capacity, a tragedy of enormous proportions is imminent. Berns is correct in referring to this situation a “long term fiscal crisis,” and his call for additional funding has been made by advocates and nonprofit service providers on many occasions and through multiple forums prior to this winter.
Sasha Bruce Youthwork stands again with hundreds of advocates and homeless families in urging city leaders to tap the $300 million budget surplus from last year. We have been unified in our belief that it is unconscionable for a surplus of this amount—collected at a time when vast swaths of the District remain emerged in poverty—to be left for some imagined rainy day. Clearly the rain has been falling, and it threatens to break the levee of our safety net for our citizens.
Balancing the budget and not overspending is a worthy goal of any Administration. Leaving tax dollars on the table while youth and families are left out in the cold cannot be seen as a reasonable part of budget prudence. Making responsible choices about the vulnerable populations that need support is crucial. Sasha Bruce Youthwork and a cadre of homeless youth advocates have decried the District’s abdication of our most vulnerable populations, and all through 2013 we have demanded increased public support for outreach, shelter and longer-term, supportive housing for youth, young adults and families.
Many communities across the country have responded to federal leadership in urging municipalities to develop comprehensive, long-term plans to eradicate homelessness through a number of proven strategies, including a continuum of outreach, emergency shelter, transitional living, and permanent affordable housing. This national leadership too often seems to fall on deaf ears among our elected and appointed officials in the District.
There is clearly a way out of this crisis. A good first step is to support the private nonprofits in our communities which have capacity and can respond to increasing numbers of youth and families who need safe havens—and to invest public dollars in the all-important, complementary youth development and family strengthening services which have demonstrated the ability to prevent homelessness in the first place.
Any wise approach to preventing homelessness among families must include supports for our future leaders – young people, themselves. Research is strong that without positive, family-focused support, low income and unaccompanied youth are likely to drop out of school, become pregnant, have health and mental health problems, and become involved in delinquent acts to support themselves. 50% of all chronically homeless adults report becoming homeless as teenagers.
Thank yous are due to the Post for bringing this critical issue back into stark relief. Sasha Bruce Youthwork, other youth- and family-serving nonprofits, the Washington Interfaith Network, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and the Fair Budget Coalition have been calling for a tap of the District’s surplus funds to prevent homelessness and to offer proven supports from emergency shelter to permanent housing for many, many months. We cannot defer action any longer.