Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 21, 2014

DC and a rise in homeless families

A rise in homeless families in DC has drawn a lot of attention, because the increase in demand for emergency housing caught the city unprepared, and some of the families were housed in hotels in Maryland ("Homeless D.C. families are sent to Maryland hotels," Washington Post), which Mayoral candidate and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells has made a campaign issue ("D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and challengers, clash over homelessness," Post).

So the response has been to take them out of hotels, and house them in city recreation centers ("DC to put newly homeless families into 2 rec centers," Post).

Mayor Gray has taken heat ("Don't give D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray the power to turn away the homeless," Post) for suggesting that a closer look at eligibility needs to occur ("D.C. mayor asks for emergency legislation to deal with surge of homeless into shelters," Post), that the city is paying for housing for people who aren't really DC residents.

This matter is more complicated than easy sentiments that housing should be provided to all.

-- National Family Homelessness Center

The research from the 1980s and 1990s found that most of the temporary homeless hated it so much they did everything in their power to not have to use public facilities.  Those that tend to remain in the public system have multiple household issues other than financing, ranging from mental health and substance abuse, single parenting issues, physical abuse within extended families, divorce, loss of employment, lack of transportation, etc.

It would be good to do qualitative interviews with a number of the families to get a sense of why they need housing, where they are from (it is true that people do come to DC from other jurisdictions because it can be easier to receive services here), and the nature of their situation, to determine whether the rise in demand is atypical or an indicator of fundamental changes in current conditions shaping the demand for emergency housing on a longer term basis.

I haven't gotten a sense from any of the media coverage on the issue that people are asking these kinds of questions.

This matters because some of the responses ("Gaithersburg woman looks to inspire initiative aimed at ending homelessness: 192-square-foot structure blends small living with large societal view," Gazette) that suggest the problem is just a matter of providing housing are misguided because troubled families typically need more support and assistance than just a roof over their heads in order to improve their situations on a long term basis.

Also see "Small World, Big Idea" from the New York Times.

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