Homeless Women Put Out Of Shelter And Into Rain And Thunderstorms

Spring is here!!!!! Many people are getting spring fever. For some it means that they will tend to the garden. Others will go to the Cherry Blossom Festival. Some will paint the house. Then there are those who will do some spring cleaning. This final group includes DC Government and the DC homeless shelters.

For most people the onset of spring is a time of great pleasure. For the homeless it means that they lose their right to shelter. DC Law only gives the homeless a right to shelter if the temperature is 32 and below or 95 and above (including the wind chill factor or heat index). So long as the temperature remains between 33 and 94, there is no right to shelter in our nation's crapital. The homeless are put out of shelter and into the rain quite often. Some shelter employees will allow people to come in if it is raining hard enough. However, they do this at their own discretion and risk, with many insurance policies not covering the shelters during usual off hours except during extreme temperatures. (If a homeless person falls and gets hurt while in the shelter during a time that the insurance doesn't cover it, the employee who let them in can lose their job.) Many homeless advocates have been fighting, to no avail, for policy change. Let it be known that a person can die of exposure in 50 degree weather if they remain wet long enough.

On the evening of Friday, March 27th, a homeless woman asked me to call the hypothermia hotline so as to have her taken to a shelter. I had a friend who was standing nearby to use his cellphone to call 1(800)535-7252. (During non-hypothermic months call 311.) The hypothermia hotline employee stated that there were no bed openings at any women's shelter throughout the system and that they therefore would not pick up this woman. So, my friend called back to ask for a blanket. When the van arrived I asked for a blanket for my lady friend and myself and gave her both. She slept outside that night.

Then I went to the CCNV shelter where I stay. As I entered the building, a woman stopped me to tell me the following story:

"The John L. Young Women's Shelter (which is in the same building as CCNV) just decreased capacity from 100 women to 85 women. The women weren't given any prior notice. So, the usual 100 lined up to receive beds. 15 of those women have nowhere to go. It's raining. The hypothermia van was called and they refuse to take the women to another shelter. (There were no openings.) However, they are transporting men, but not women. Those 15 women had to go out into the rain and find whatever place they could to sleep."

Since that night I found out that the reason that the women were given for the decreased capacity at the shelter is that it was a fire hazard. John L. Young supposedly has 2 doors and therefore will not be allowed to house more than 85 women due to the time it would take for them to exit through 2 doors in the event of a fire. (The Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter also decreased its capacity from 100 to 88 women some time ago. I'm not sure as to why. This was prior to them moving into a new building.)

With hypothermia being over, those shelters that were only seasonal are shutting down. People are bound to see more homeless people -- male and female -- on the streets now. Nonetheless, I've not heard of any men being told that there are no vacancies in the system for them -- just women. There is evidently a shortage of women's shelters. Let's ask DC Government to create more women's shelters WITHOUT DECREASING THE NUMBER OF MEN'S SHELTERS. (Fenty will do that kind of stuff.)

Beware lest Fenty and DC Government use the warmer weather as an opportunity to eliminate various shelters and homeless services as a way of getting the homeless to leave town. Were they to do this, it would mean that there would be insufficient shelter come next winter. While I've not collected clear evidence of Mayor Fenty or DC Government having such a motive, we are in desperate economic times and desperate situations call for desperate measures. So, let's think proactively and get ahead of the gang.

Furthermore, I can't help but think of the homeless point-in-time count that the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) does every January. Many are skeptical about its results, and not without good reason. My guess is that there are some couch surfers who are allowed to remain with family during the colder months and are put out when the weather breaks. They would be missed during the January count, though they are technically homeless. Then there are those who get missed due to sleeping outdoors but in a well-secluded spot.

The point-in-time survey reports the number of sheltered homeless versus the number of unsheltered homeless. They fail to factor in that the hypothermia shelters will close come spring and people will be put out on the streets. There are actually more street homeless now than there were in the winter. This renders the number of unsheltered homeless people reported by the survey grossly inaccurate and under-reported when the seasonal shelters are shut down. Maybe we should actually do the count in spring. Let's move it to May. Or is that too much like right?????

NOTE: The Committee 2 Save Franklin Shelter will meet at the MLK, Jr. Memorial Library in room A-5 at 2:30 PM on Friday, April 3rd to discuss the case FENTY et al vs. SHEPTOCK et al. The case is being moved to federal court and we are adding the charge of RESIDENCE DISCRIMINATION due to Fenty shifting the homeless away from downtown and out to wards 7 and 8 which are already rife with social ills.


JesseinDC said…
I found a story on the "Housing First" policy in DC on Truthout (originally a story on NPR). They don't explicitly call it Mayor Fenty's program, but it does remind me of what you were saying about the mayor's talk about finding permanent housing to replace shelters (I heard you talking to DC for Democracy about about Franklin School back in February).

Here's the story:


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