A June 3 hearing before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services sought public opinion on several controversial changes to city’s Homeless Services Reform Act.
I did not attend the hearing because I was worried about what I would say to those who opposed the amendments. I would have told them to welcome the proposed changes to the law, which are intended to help families move more quickly out of the shelter system.
One of the amendments proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray would require clients in some city shelters and transitional housing programs to place 30 percent of any monthly income they might have into a an escrow or savings account. I think it’s a good idea. If you have never had a savings account, your money is gaining interest plus you will have money to pay for your monthly rent! How many people in this town can say that they only pay 30 percent of their income for mortgage or rent? Most people who have jobs for 1 to 20 years of their lives will tell you that they live from paycheck to paycheck and are scared of becoming homeless.
It can happen to anyone. So, the amendment is putting people into homes first and then they can start working on their lives and finding permanent jobs or training programs. This can make them more marketable, to make more money and not have to rely on DHS’s 30 percent escrow for the rest of their lives. They can pretty much move onto something different in their lives and feel comfortable.
The way some people talk, you might think the amendment would shut down all shelters for families and individuals. But that’s not what it would do it all. City officials are simply saying that families need to take their monthly income—whether it’s Temporary Aid for Needy Families Assistance, Social Security income, or whatever —and put 30 percent into an escrow. I’ve been on TANF Assistance and wished that I had a place for my two kids and me to live that only required having to put away 30 percent of my monthly income. Not having to live with relatives and having to deal with their rules would have helped me while I was going back to college and raising two children.
It’s overcrowded in the DC family shelters, and the city needs to move clients into permanent housing. Stop claiming that the amendments would allow the housing department to throw families out of shelters and make it impossible for other families to move into shelters. Isn’t it time for the city officials to do their jobs to prevent families and individuals from having to go into shelters? You have excellent homeless service providers in this city, who are expanding and doing a great justice for homeless men and women who are putting their 30 percent income into an escrow and are living in their own apartment. Why can’t this program be expanding towards families in Washington, DC?