Under District of Columbia law, any person in Washington, D.C. has a right to shelter in severe weather.
The District must ensure that adequate emergency shelter space or other accommodations exist to house everyone who would be in danger of freezing in the winter or of heat prostration in the summer.
For families, shelter units are supposed to be apartment-style. In other words, each family is supposed to have a private space that will enable the adults and children to live something like a normal life with minimal risk.
Like state and local governments across the country, the District is facing a budget crunch. DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, who chairs the Human Services Committee, wants to address it partly by changing the District's homelessness law.
His proposal would, in most cases, restrict access to shelter to people who could immediately provide evidence that they are District residents or get someone to verify that they are. It would also eliminate the obligation to provide separate shelter units for families.
In these tough times, it's reasonable to try to reserve local resources for services to residents. But the bill that aims to do this would in fact deny shelter to District residents, leaving them at the mercy of the elements. It would also mean that families could be housed in conditions that pose health and safety risks, especially for children.
In short, the proposed remedy is far worse than the problem it tries to address.
Tell Councilmember Wells to work with local advocates and service providers on a better solution.
Photo credit: Daquella manera