Friday, October 5, 2012

Back to "Bad"


In 2011 hundreds of homeless advocates and concerned citizens came out in force to demand that the DC Council find money to fill the gap for a $20.5 million budget shortfall in the Fiscal year 2012 homeless services budget. Had they not found it, DC's homeless community would only be guaranteed shelter for the five coldest months of the year. They found $17 million. This year the shortfall was only $7 million for FY 2013 which began October 1st but the same threat was presented along with a possible reduction in funding for feeding programs and transitional housing.

It was determined in the last week of September that DC Government's tax revenue was $140 million above the projection. Additionally, the Dept. of Youth and Rehabilitative Services (DYRS) and the Dept. of Child and Family Services (DCFS) have underspent their budgets by a combined $36 million which leaves DC Government with at least $176 million to put in savings or reverse budget cuts. However, with the lingering threat of federal budget sequestration (which would decrease the amount of money Congress gives to DC Government), the DC Council is being cautiously optimistic. So, as of the writing of this article, whether or not some of these funds would be used to reverse the budget shortfall to homeless services was not known.

SHARC(shelter, Housing And Respectful Change), a group of homeless advocates which formed in April 2011 to fight against the budget cuts, holds the position that we should demand that MORE than $7 million of this money be invested in homeless services. When homeless services were "fully-funded", they were woefully inadequate. The shortfall has threatened to downgrade such services from "bad" to "worse". Merely reversing the shortfall would bring services "back to 'bad'"; but, we demand "better". DC Inspector-General Charles Willoughby recently ran two articles in the Examiner concerning inadequate homeless services -- in August and September. The latter article highlighted the District's failure to actually END homelessness locally -- which the advocates have said for years. There's no word on what, if anything, the District is doing in response to this exposed shortcoming.

But SHARC is planning an event which will place immense pressure on the DC Council and mayor to invest in solutions to homelessness -- not just maintenance of the problem. On October 29th, 2012 we will mobilize 1,000 or more of DC's 7,000+ homeless people (up from 5,757 in 2007) of which at least 1,600 are children. "Occupy the DC Council: A Homeless and Poor People's Town Hall Meeting at DC City Hall" will run from 10 AM to 4 PM (with set-up beginning at 8 AM). There will be food, music, speakers, a coat/clothing drive and much more. Throughout the day people will be directed to enter the Wilson Building (City Hall) across the road and make their pitch for what people need to get out of homelessness. We are reaching out to various faith-based groups, homeless service providers, non-profits, concerned citizens etc. to contribute in any way that they can; because we don't just want to get homeless services "back to bad".

For more information, you can attend a weekly SHARC meeting at 425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC on Mondays from 1 to 3 PM. You can also e-mail sheptock@streats.tv or leave a message on SHARC's voicemail: (202) 643-1550. To reach SHARC Chairman Eric Sheptock directly, it is best to text a short message about the nature of your concern to (240) 305-5255 and Eric will respond (most likely within five minutes). Voicemails to this number take longer for him to respond to.

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