Friday, October 17, 2008

My Testimony Pertaining To The Elimination Of The Housing Authority Waitlist

The following is my testimony that I read before Councilman Marion Barry (Ward 8) at a hearing on October 16th. The hearing had to do with DC Government's proposed elimination of the Housing Authority's waitlist, which some people have been on for over a decade while waiting for housing.

I, Eric Sheptock, am against the elimination of the housing authority’s waitlist for a number of reasons, not the least of which is mismanagement by the Dept. of Human Services (DHS)of the Permanent Supportive Housing Program. It is my understanding that 350 housing choice vouchers were transferred from the Section 8 program to the Permanent Supportive Housing Program, the latter of which is a program that was designed to house DC’s chronic homeless population, ostensibly anyway. It is important to note that the mayor has not created any additional housing. He has essentially robbed Peter to pay Paul. To make matters worse, the voucher program is being managed much less efficiently after the transfer than before.

I was recently informed that the Permanent Supportive Housing Program is governed by the same federal regulations that govern the Section 8 program, being that funds were transferred from that federally funded program. This bridges the 2 programs together in a manner of speaking.

People are either losing or giving up their units for several reasons. Some have rats and roaches in their units. Some people are being placed in bad neighborhoods that are plagued with drugs and violence. Some have been given apartments in Trinidad, the same part of town that the police had on lockdown just months ago due to its high crime rate. This doesn’t make it any easier for those just getting over addictions to abstain from using. They are finding that they felt much safer at the shelters and returning to them.

Then there are those whose addictions and mental issues have not been adequately dealt with. Some of them are selling the furniture that came with their new apartment unit. In at least one instance, the man sold his furniture about 30 minutes after receiving his keys and entering the apartment. Still others are subletting the units that they got for free.

Furthermore, the original plan for Permanent Supportive Housing called for the creation of several levels of care. There was supposed to be scattered-site housing for the formerly homeless who don’t need very close monitoring. That consists of a voucher program that enables the formerly homeless person to live somewhat independently in an apartment unit. The scattered-site housing then subdivides into 2 intensity levels as far as monitoring is concerned.

Then there is also supposed to be what is called site-based housing. That would consist of DC Government owning the building. There would be apartment units upstairs and service providers downstairs. They would include psychiatrists and psychologists. If a person has an episode, someone downstairs could be alerted immediately. The problem with this type of housing is that it hasn’t been created yet. Those who need the close monitoring are being rushed into the scattered-site housing, to the detriment of them and those living around them. And it’s all because the mayor wants to give a building to a developer and rub the backs of others in the business community.

Add to all of this the fact that the homeless were given priority on housing and vouchers were taken away from the Section 8 program and it doesn’t look too good. Many people have waited 5, 10 even 15 years for housing. Some thought that they were very close to being housed. Then, all of a sudden, their hopes are thwarted as the Section 8 program was essentially robbed by the PSH program. This is enough to make anyone mad. Even as a homeless man, I say that this isn’t right. Nonetheless, I’d accept adequate housing if it were offered to me.

I have 2 solutions for the problems that I’ve mentioned here today. The first is to address the philosophical fiasco that is known as “Housing first”. Rather than listing addiction as a mental illness and rewarding the addict with housing so that he or she can abuse the system, let’s house the best of the worst first. House the homeless people who have the least issues first. House those whose issues are not of a mental or behavioral nature. Have those with current or recent addictions to wait until the site-based housing is built.

The other is to transfer some of the units back to Section 8. After all, someone who is living with family or friends might be willing to defer to those with no place to live; however, I’d expect them to be enraged if they were to find that that housing was eventually abused and misused by its recipient. Let’s fix the Permanent Supportive Housing program or return those vouchers to their rightful owner, Section 8.

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