Thursday, February 14, 2013

Warning: Save the Shelter and the People

The Post has been running many great articles calling attention to the poor conditions of  Ward 6's family homeless shelter. I want to emphasize: We have to be very careful that these criticisms are not used to dismantle the shelter. Many groups allied with the city's "growth machine" -- groups interested in economic growth over the needs of a wide variety residents --would like to displace these residents and redevelop the land, greatly profiting themselves and disregarding the life-saving "use value" that the shelter has for its homeless residents. Developers might advertise their humanitarian intentions by saying that people should not live this way and stating that they will find homes for these people, but this never happens or happens for only a small handful of people.

The Post articles call on us to help our neighbors. In the Post, Annie Gowen reports that the District’s shelter for homeless families at DC General Hospital is now housing "372 adults and nearly 600 children living in small, converted rooms, enough kids to populate an elementary school." Thankfully, the city has a legal requirement to help the homeless: "The city, by law, must house residents when the temperature drops below freezing and has to use hotels when regular shelters are full." Petula Dvorak introduces us to many of our neighbors at the family shelter. For example,
there’s Kevin Cruz, 29, who has been at D.C. General with his wife and baby since Thanksgiving. They’ve been homeless since July, when McDonald’s cut Cruz’s hours until he couldn’t afford his apartment and his wife’s part-time work at Wal-Mart didn’t provide benefits when she had their child.
She asks us to contact our Council members to demand help for "these 600 young souls," who are "precious" "assets." Courtland Milloy asks, "Where's the outrage over 600 homeless children?"

We should be very careful that these criticisms are not used to dismantle the shelter. The shelter is absolutely necessary. It is also very important that the shelter is close to the Metro, which allows residents to get to work, school, and social services. Moving these residents would make their lives even worse, unless they were being moved to their own apartments or houses, which is not happening anytime soon or might happen soon for only very very few people. Developers and residents around the DC General Hospital site are very interested in the redevelopment of that site and the broader Reservation 13. So, build affordable housing all over the city that is truly affordable for those working at minimum-wage jobs or those out of work AND improve the shelter. Our neighbors need all the help we can mobilize.

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