Street Politics

Two men shake hands

Archive photo

Taking it to the streets, “Where Information is Power.” 

If you’ve ridden the bus or Metro this year, or looked at a local newspaper (including Street Sense), you’ve probably seen a picture of a homeless man in a scarf and hot, with the words “help bring the homeless in from the cold”, and D.C.’s year-round shelter hotline (1-800-535-7252).  

The ads, along with spots on TV and radio, are part of expanded outreach and information efforts by the District’s Department of Human Services. 

DHS public affairs chief Debra Daniels says the department is starting to see “cross-pollination” among those efforts. Since last October she has hosted “Inside DHS” Monday mornings on WOL-AM (“Where Information is Power”), and she says the show is generating calls to DHS. The department has also been staging information fairs in “hot spots,” where crime and poverty receive extra attention from the city. And DHS is en listing pastors and community groups to help to help reach out in Wards 7 and 8 and in “hot spots” citywide. 

Daniels said that calls to both the shelter hotline and “Dial 211 for Social Services” are up, and the city did make it through last winter without any homeless hypothermia deaths reported. 

And, she said, “we do a lot that people aren’t even aware of.” So, DHS will also be distributing its annual report citywide. 

Legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow described good communication as telling people what you’re going to say, saying it, then telling them what you just said. 

Yup. And helping needy people, and getting credit for doing so, also work better when you repeat your message.  

Effective Communication, Part Two. 

The City Council recently voted down a proposed requirement to keep the Franklin Shelter in Northwest open until other permanent shelter space can be found downtown. The measure would have bolstered an existing commitment from the city. 

In the past year, some shelters have closed, and other have opened or expanded. And keeping shelter beds downtown, at Franklin or elsewhere, is a complicated proposition. So, the game of musical chairs, or musical shelters, is expected to continue a while yet. 

Council member Adrian Fenty provided an accompaniment for this process at a hearing earlier this year when he brandished an article from the Washington Post about plans to turn the Franklin building into a “hip hotel.” He repeated the phrase so many times that it became one of the most memorable ones of the day. 

More to the point, he emphasized a lack of effective communications among those responsible for managing human services and development, with the Post being the way some participants keep up to date. 

A little extra flavor in downtown’s redevelopment is a welcome idea, but everyone likes to know what’s coming next. New space was lined up for the men leaving the MLK and Crummell trailers, and people expect the same to happen for Franklin. 

Too Much of a Good Thing?  

Budgets are useful things – they keep public services running and makes statement about priorities. But starting with higher spending proposals can mean more chances to provoke opposition, as lawmakers look for ways to bring proposals down to what taxpayers will support. 

So, the Montgomery County Council has been struggling to shape a budget from the remarkably generous proposals recently sent up by County Executive Douglas Duncan, who may run for governor next year, without throwing things out of balance. 

Some trimming is expected in human needs funding as the Council’s May 31 budget deadline approaches, said Sharan London of the Montgomery County Coalitions for the Homeless. But, she said, “We don ‘t want to see any budget cuts that would increase homelessness, as we are working to decrease it.” 

Issues |DC Budget|Shelters

Region |Maryland|Montgomery County

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.