Winter is coming, and that is a bad time to be without shelter. The further north you go the harsher the climate, and thus the harder it is to survive unsheltered. Think about it when you run from your front door to your car, from island of heat to island of heat. Now think about that moment in the cold and stretch it out to days, weeks, months. For many, especially the very young and the very old, it can be the last season they will ever see.
Barely a week before the worst weather is to set in, Washington, D.C., has finally approved its winter plan for the homeless. The law in D.C. states that emergency shelter must be provided by the city to homeless people during the harshest months of the year, between Nov. 1 and March 31. This is quite the task considering the area is home to over 800 homeless families with more than 1,500 children. The total number of homeless in the D.C. area is roughly 6,500. (These numbers were drawn from a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments census performed earlier this year. )
Nathan Rott, a staff writer for The Washington Post, noted some concerns in his blog a few days ago:
Advocates for the homeless and shelter providers expressed concern about the plan’s lack of an overflow emergency shelter that would be used during extreme cold. An earlier version of the plan, which proposed adding 100 apartments and rooms to the Family Emergency Shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital, was rejected after advocates and D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said that adding beds would lead to overcrowding. District officials refused to consider a proposal to convert a former nursing home and mental health center on Spring Road into a shelter.
A total of $2.2 million has been budgeted by the city for housing the homeless through these bitter months. Here is a synopsis of how it will be spent, also by Nathan Rott (excerpted from his full Washington Post article that followed the prior blog post):
The plan approved by the Interagency Council on Homelessness, a coalition of D.C. agencies and nonprofit groups, lists 185 units that will be used for families when emergency shelters are full. Some advocates for the homeless say they are worried that number will be insufficient, but D.C. officials say it’s a better use of city money to put people in more permanent housing instead of temporary shelters.
As the ice and snow approach, the immediacy of warmth and shelter takes precedence over the more long-term goal of getting these folks back on their feet. Shelter is all too often the only thing people consider when the subject of homelessness arises. In order to keep that shelter though, the person must be able to reintegrate with society and the job force. Programs that address the underlying ills must be enacted in order to make any lasting difference to those living in the streets.
Source: “Winter plan for homeless approved,” The Washington Post, 10/27/10
Source: “D.C. approves winter shelter plan,” The Washington Post – Post Now, 10/26/10
Image by brownpau, used under its Creative Commons license.
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