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D.C. Judge Orders Apartment-Style Shelters for Homeless During Winter Freeze
Homeless Families Want Privacy in Shelters
A D.C. Superior Court judge in July 2015 ordered the District of Columbia to arrange apartment-style shelters or hotel rooms for homeless families when temperatures drop below freezing.
Judge Robert Okun issued the mandatory injunction on behalf of families that filed a lawsuit last year to stop the city’s policy of making them sleep on cots in recreational centers.
D.C. law guarantees homeless families shelter when temperatures drop below 32-degrees. The families that sued said the recreational centers were inadequate as shelters because they offered no privacy, had crowded bathrooms and did not protect children from drug addicts and other dangerous persons.
City officials tried to get the lawsuit dismissed by arguing all the complaints in the lawsuit were resolved by a 2015 law. The law guarantees homeless families privacy and safety, according to attorneys for the District.
Okun rejected the city’s motion for dismissal. He said the new law was not a significant improvement over the previous policy of providing shelter to the District’s more than 7,000 homeless persons.
The lawsuit originally was filed by four families but Okun expanded it into a class action. The families were housed at the Benning Park Recreation Center at 5100 Southern Avenue SE during hypothermia alerts.
They were represented by pro bono attorneys from the firm of Hogan Lovells.
Normally, the city puts homeless families in motel rooms but used recreation center common areas last winter as the homeless population grew to a record level. The city exceeded its budget of $3.2 million for homeless shelter last winter by spending more than $4.5 million.
Six-foot partitions that D.C. officials said met requirements of the law separated one family’s cots from others. The lawsuit said the partitions were flimsy and did not keep out noise from other families nearby.
Part of the lawsuit focused on a definition of a private room that would meet standards for safety.
The Hogan Lovells attorneys cited Webster’s dictionary in defining a private room as a space with walls, a ceiling, floors and a door.
D.C. attorney Kim Katzenbarger said the law did not define a private room but it should be considered a space with walls or partitions.