Homeless Families Series Part 2: How Will Homeless Families Fare This Winter?

August 27, 2015

For several years, the District provided DC-contracted shelter to families only on nights when the temperature or wind chill fell to 32 degrees or below.

That restrictive policy left many families living in vehicles or stairways or emergency rooms, “couch-surfing” in dangerous circumstances, or returning to violent households.

We have been advocating for shelter to be provided year-round and not only during extreme cold. The District changed its policy a few months ago and it is now sheltering families year-round.

Here we are in August, and there are 565 families, who are 1,923 persons, in the DC-contracted shelter system. These families have to be moved rapidly to stable housing, for their own well-being and to free units for other families.

The city has to gear up to accommodate several hundred more families that will enter the system at some time during the winter “season” (roughly from November 1 through March 31). But the hope is that by accepting families year-round, the city will experience less pent-up demand during the winter than it has in the last few years.

What are the plans for the coming winter?
On September 1, the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) will vote on the proposed 2015-2016 Winter Plan. For more than 10 years, SOME has helped to develop the District’s annual Winter Plans, providing weather, alert status, and shelter usage information in so much detail that we have helped the District to make increasingly “data-driven” decisions and planning.

The proposed 2015-2016 plan recognizes that the number of shelter units will depend on how many families come into shelter and how many exit each month. This is because one shelter unit is used by multiple families over the course of the winter, as one family exits and another enters.

The plan estimates that DC General will be full at 260 families every month. The District will contract with motel owners for overflow rooms; the estimated need starts at 390 in November and reaches a high of 759 in February. There is also a built-in contingency of 20% in case it takes some families longer to be placed in apartments or private rooms. All placed families will be entitled to case management.

Attend the September 1 meeting of the ICH to learn more about and comment on the proposed 2015-2016 Winter Plan.
The meeting will be held on Tuesday, September 1 from 12:30 to 3:30 pm at the DHCD Housing Resource Center, 1800 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE, 1st Floor.

What about DC General?
Consider that eight years ago the same arguments that are now raised about DC General were raised about a previous site called DC Village. In fact, DC Village was closed, but families with absolutely nowhere else to go still had to be sheltered. So when DC Village closed, the DC General site was opened for families.

If that site should be closed, what resources are available to the District? The District’s General Services Agency has been looking for alternatives over several years but without success.

The current plan, as articulated in “Homeward DC 2015-2020,” the ICH’s Strategic Plan, is to start construction in Fiscal Year 2016 to replace about one-third of the DC General units. Additional units would be constructed by transferring operating dollars away from motel overflow to the new facilities. If the average length of stay in shelter is reduced, it is hoped that DC General would function for two more winters and then be closed.

Read Part 1: Why is Family Homelessness Rising?