How to help the homeless in DC
A brief look at issues effecting the homeless population
Homelessness effects many different kinds of people. In Washington DC it was estimated by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, that 13,201 people were homeless in the city in the year 2011. Another 6,540 plus people are estimated to be homeless currently. The causes are all various. Getting help to those who need it and trying to solve these problems has been an the agenda for the law makers of America within the last few weeks. Last week the President addressed the Secretary of the Urban Housing Administration in the White house over related issue being opened on the HUD funding plans.
In 2010, I volunteered with a Tarrant County agency in Fort Worth ,TX to collect data on the homeless census. Forms had a list of several systematic data on who is homeless and how it occurred. Volunteers traveled out to different shelters in the area to personally interview residents on the status in the population. The data collected reflects information simular to ones used in other cities. The causes of a person being homeless relate to several differing states, including: being an ex-felon, victim of domestic violence, disabled person, veteran of war, history of substance abuse, unemployed person, or if they have a mental illness. Along with the income level they have such as those who receive food stamps, TANF, unemployment benefits, disability benefits, or child support. This information mostly explains almost every person who resides in a homeless shelter, and shows what residences have in common.
From researched information I found on thomas.gov, I gathered a concept of the history of the government’s involvement in assisting the needs of the homeless. The first progressive action I found within recent history, is The Housing Act of 1937. This is what defines Section 8 , and Section 6 Housing for Homeownership. Tremendously the American population has benefitted from this. Yet, within the last decade lists like Section 8 have not been open to the public due to lack of funding being available.
I was one a wait list to receive a Section 8 voucher to pay for 70% of rent for an apartment I choice, based on what income I have. When I received my letter of approval in the mail, I was employed at a full time. The instructions written in the letter were for me to call an 800 number to return with a reply to make an appointment to go to an interview to get the voucher. I would call every day for several weeks during my lunch and other breaks throughout the day. The line was never answered, it was constantly busy. I spent two years waiting to be sent a letter that I was approved from a list of thousands of people only to be turned down by high call volumes. Now the waiting list is closed. No more applicants are being accepted due to so many other people waiting as I did for those 2 years. Just like the housing needs for those 6,500 persons now living in District of Columbia are waiting for long term housing so are others who have temporary housing. Something needs to be done to help those people who need help to get housing.
I have a gross amount of questions to ask the law makers of our American government. The first one is this: Why can’t being homeless be a more publicly accepted experience? Why can’t it be claimed on a person’s IRS form, and shown as a hardship for financial documentation? The second phase is more about regulations of public shelters. Why does not the government regulate, by public codes like libraries and other public areas, the health and sanitation of public shelters? Additionally there should be a punishment if shelter employees do not follow those regulations, or if they discriminate homeless persons right to receive shelter for any reasons. Long term housing should be available in all public shelters. No one should be forced to leave a public shelter out to the street based on the financial status of that organization, the government should allow funding to support housing where it is needed.
The homeless deserve clean beds, clean sheets, and personal space to shower and to dress. Some public shelters are like a jail dormitory. It is a one room space for bunk beds limited to the first persons who stand in line that night. The limitation in these place may be under 100 persons, when more homeless need a place to sleep/ In the morning time the residents must leave out the streets. Without funding the shelter can not provide bus fair, and the homeless are left to walk the streets until the center opens again at night time. Beds at some shelters are invested with bed bugs. The matreses are torn and filthy. The sheets on the beds are old tattered and torn. All of these types of conditions should be regulated by a code of law that a governing council should oversee to comply on a yearly basis with an inspection of the public areas. The government should allow funding to help those who need it.
As New York City started opening hotels for renovation to create rooms for the homeless, more cities should follow along. The homeless deserve a place to stay. I wonder why can’t Las Vegas be more like this? Binions Hotel and Casino on the Freemont Experience is no longer a public hotel open for business, it’s rooms were not able to be renovated. I think this would be a great place to open not just a homeless shelter, but an on-site job training location for persons who reside there. The kitchen, hospitality, and gaming operations are all acceptable trades which have courses available through public or private colleges in the area. Training on the job would not be a bad idea.
I talked an editorial journalist, Butch, who worked at the Las Vegas Review Journal one day in 2008. He told me it was his dream to place public meters along downtown Las Vegas Blvd. to collect what he called “ Change for the Homeless”. It worked! A few meters were dedicated by the mayor of Las Vegas live on the local news within a year later. He made a difference. It is ideas like this one that can help make change. Collecting change is a good idea for Las Vegas, what kind of ideas can go on in Washington DC?
This November I was encouraged by the National Alliance to End Homelessness to send a letter to Congresswomen Elanor Norton Holmes office to address this issue. I also posted a blog about this back to Katie’s page to let her know who I had contacted. Encouragements like contact your local representative have gotten me involved in years worth of public campaigns. In my letter I urged Ms. Holmes to help the homeless, and to come out to visit some of the communities where they live in her city. I know that legislation is being introduced to help more homeless get housing. But not enough is being done. When will the housing projects offered by the HUD agency be a “Drug-Free and Crime-Free” zoned neighborhood like public schools are zoned? I liked the ad campaign in the early 1990‘s that said” No one wants to grow up to be (junkie) drug addict, or to be homeless”. Both of these messages convey the truth. No one wants to stay homeless. Please find a way to make another person aware of this article and its cause.