Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Releases Report on Violations of Homeless Families’ Right to Shelter

Sionne Rosenfeld, Arnold & Porter Loaned Associate

Valarie Ney, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP Loaned Associate

This month, the public’s attention has focused on the plight of homeless families living in our area.  In the last two weeks, the Washington Post has published a series of articles featuring the unique and difficult circumstances of the families – including 600 children – living in the homeless shelter created at the former D.C. General Hospital.

A lack of affordable housing and the limited reach of governmental housing assistance programs have contributed to this homelessness problem.  When families in poverty must select which of life’s necessities they can afford, often it is housing – which typically requires the highest proportion of one’s income to maintain – which is sacrificed.  For these families who find themselves without a home, D.C. law requires the city to provide shelter to individuals and families when the actual or forecasted temperature drops below freezing. When the shelters are full, the city is required to use hotel rooms.

Despite this law, however, many of families find themselves without safe lodging.  The obstacles to finding shelter this winter, and the additional hurdles faced by those families who sought the D.C. General facility as a safe place to stay this winter, are detailed in a report issued this month by the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

The report highlights issues families are facing when trying to access this right. For example, although the weather forecast is available from the National Weather Service by 7 a.m., alerts are often called late in the day when it may be too late for individuals and families to avail themselves of emergency shelter for the night.  The report also shines a spotlight on legal violations that threaten the health and safety of residents at the city’s shelter for homeless families at D.C. General Hospital, including lack of heat and hot water, pest infestations and lack of appropriate beds for infants.  We encourage all of you to read the report, which can be found here: http://www.legalclinic.org/pdf/Hypothermia2012-2013Mid-SeasonReport.pdf.

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