The D.C. City Council in mid-July unanimously passed the Homeless Services Reform Act (HSRA), overcoming years of opposition, with the measure now going to the desk of Mayor Williams for his signature.
The HSRA is designed to update and universalize the way in which various homeless services providers operate in D.C., or, as the text of the bill reads, “to codify the rights and responsibilities of clients of homeless services providers, and the standards by which [these] providers must deliver services to clients.”
The council vote marks a victory for homeless advocacy groups who have been lobbying for its passage since 2002.
The extended delay was largely the result of fiscal concerns: worries that the cost of guaranteeing a vaguely defined “right to shelter” to anyone who applied for it caused the bill to fail in 2004, as critics warned of massive financial burdens that could potentially be placed on the District.
The bill was introduced by the Councilman Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4), who described HSRA as “a landmark, comprehensive legislation that clearly sets out the District’s obligation to provide effective services to homeless people and help them transition to permanent housing.”
One of the highlights of the bill is the creation of an Interagency Council on Homelessness, which would work to improve coordination and accountability among the many public service providers currently operating in the District, known as the Continuum of Care. The interagency group would include representatives from the District’s Department of Human Services, as well as homeless and formerly homeless individuals, advocates for the homeless, and representatives from organizations in the Continuum of Care.
The bill also lays out guidelines for clients’ rights – including the right to shelter in severe weather conditions – and common standards for service providers, such as requiring that language assistance be available to clients with limited proficiency in English.
The mayor is expected to sign the measure. It then goes to Congress for its approval, and is likely to go into effect in September.