Advocacy Testimony: FY2019 Department of Human Services Performance Oversight Hearing

The blog text below is from testimony submitted by SOME for the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY2019) Department of Human Services (DHS) and Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Performance Oversight Hearing.


Good morning, Chairpersons Nadeau and Bonds, and members of the Committees.

My name is Nechama Masliansky, and I am the Senior Advocacy Advisor at SOME (So Others Might Eat). SOME is an interfaith and nonprofit organization. For 49 years, we have provided comprehensive services to District residents who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, to help them advance to stability and self-sufficiency.

We serve at least 10,000 unduplicated persons a year with services including food; medical care, behavioral health services, and dental care; day programs; senior services; employment training; and supportive housing. Thank you for the opportunity to testify at this Department of Human Services (DHS) and Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Performance Oversight Hearing for Fiscal Year 2019-2020.

Nearly 4,000 “literally homeless” unaccompanied adults (“singles”) were counted in the 2019 Point in Time enumeration in DC. Last week, more than 1,600 singles were in the District-funded emergency shelter system on any given night.

Regarding DHS, our comments and recommendations are as follows:

  1. 1Increase funding to enable at least 1,000 more unaccompanied adults to move into Permanent Supportive Housing, Targeted Affordable Housing, and Rapid Re-housing in the next Fiscal Year.
  2. Continue to increase the number of beds for women in the downtown core. It is not unusual for there to be zero such vacancies or only one or two.
  3. We applaud the new DC Collaborative on Domestic Violence and Human Services, a quarterly opportunity for DHS and private organizations to explore current issues and share new program ideas.
  4. Increase funding for the Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) Program, which enables disabled persons to receive a minimum income while they await the federal determination of their SSI/SSDI applications. Not only does this offer a modicum of dignity to otherwise indigent persons, but it also enables many to contribute to the households where they may be staying, and thus keeps them from being literally homeless.
  5. Continue to fund the DHS-funded, hard-working Homeless Street Outreach program, which provides crucial relationship-building with persons on the streets, connects them with services and helps them connect with housing.
  6. Add SOAR [SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery] to the Street Outreach program (as had been the case with its predecessor program, CAHBI). Assistance from trained persons in SOAR enables disabled persons to succeed in their SSI/SSDI applications 73% of the time, as contrasted with 40% of applications not assisted by SOAR.
  7. To provide viable incentives for people to sleep in shelters rather than on the streets, and to treat all people with respect and dignity, continue to look into basic shelter-condition issues such as more case management, better safety including fire safety, improved resident-staff relations and respect, better health and sanitation conditions, and improvements in the physical plants, including reliable HVAC systems.
  8. Examine the need for shelter for couples year-round.

In addition, we are concerned about the impact on our clients (and on direct-service organizations and faith organizations) from two Federal developments: Cuts starting on April 1st to SNAP benefits for approximately 15,000 District adults; and proposed changes that eventually could terminate SSI/SSDI disability payments to adults and children [Public Comments on the latter are due this Thursday].

We are eager to begin immediately working with DHS to provide community education around these challenges.

Regarding the Interagency Council on Homelessness

We must acknowledge and appreciate the extraordinary process that Kristy Greenwalt and her team undertook to formulate the Homeward DC 2.0 plan, with 34 meetings for developing input, analysis, and content.

The result is a more-realistic document that the previous plan. Moreover, it includes a welcome recognition of the role of systemic racial inequity in poverty, homelessness, and under-employment in the District; and it recognizes that more attention needs to be paid to the growing needs of seniors in the homelessness continuum.

We encourage the Council to support the Homeward DC 2.0 plan. Thank you.