Winter Shelter For Families Is Closing In Washington, D.C. FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 7 Apr 1999 17:14:14 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1999-04/05/066l-040599-idx.html
FWD  Washington Post - Monday, April  5, 1999; Page B01

     TOGETHER, BUT NO PLACE TO GO

     D.C.'s Winter Shelter for Families Is Closing at Month's End

     By Sylvia Moreno - Washington Post Staff Writer

Here within their dreary yellow room in the District's winter shelter for
the homeless, the Salters cling together, trying to preserve their family.

Eleven-year-old Jeree spreads out his pile of library books on the old
hospital bed where he sleeps. "Spiders and Their Kin." "Earthworms, Dirt
and Rotten Leaves." "Thinking About Ants."

His 3-year-old brother, Charles Jr., climbs out of his bed, clad in
cartoon-character briefs and T-shirt, and peeks into the spider book.

Last month, on March 25, the children's parents, Regina and Charles Sr.,
celebrated their wedding anniversary right here, in this room. "I took his
hand and said it's going to be all right," Regina Salter said.

"We've stayed together with the family this long," Charles Salter said. "We
have to make it."

But how they will do that is unclear. The Salters are facing a six-month
wait to get into the District's chock-full emergency shelter system for
homeless families, and that would be only a temporary solution for them,
anyway. Within a month, they will be forced to leave the D.C. Village
hypothermia shelter for families when it closes for the spring.

If they can come up with enough money, the Salters can move into their own
place. If they cannot, they could end up on the street or separated -- with
the parents going into the District's single adult shelter system and the
children into foster care.

March 31 was the legal deadline for closing the city's hypothermia shelter
for families. But the Salters and 17 other families -- 19 adults and 42
children in all -- got a one-month reprieve. Faced with requests from
advocates for the homeless and a legal challenge from one of the parents in
the shelter, the nonprofit group that runs the District's programs for the
homeless recommended delaying the closing. The city's Department of Human
Services approved the request.

D.C. Village, located in an old city-run nursing home that was shut down in
1996, opens each year on the first day the temperature drops to 32 degrees.
It has not closed on March 31 for the last two years. Each time, it
operated for up to five extra days, until all the families were placed in
transitional or permanent housing, according to the Community Partnership
for Prevention of Homelessness, which runs the city's emergency shelter
services for the homeless.

This year, an unusually large number of homeless families remains in the
winter shelter, said Cornell Chappelle, Partnership Outreach coordinator.
At the same time, the number of families on the waiting list to get into
the city's emergency family shelter system has spiked dramatically in the
past six months, from 267 to 408. The city has only 146 apartments for
emergency family housing.

In addition, many of the families remaining in D.C. Village have problems
that make it particularly hard to place them in housing, Chappelle said.

Some, like the Salters, have no income at all. The Salters arrived in
Washington on a bus from New Jersey one recent snowy March day, determined
to make a fresh start after years of job layoffs and evictions that left
them homeless and on welfare. They have yet to get the approval necessary
to switch their public assistance benefits from New Jersey to the District.

Others in the shelter are mentally ill or retarded, Chappelle said. Still
others have been evicted recently from subsidized or market-rate
apartments. Many have bad credit ratings, few have lived independently, and
all have average annual incomes of $8,000 or less.

"This is a tough job, given the short amount of time and the kinds of
families we're dealing with," Chappelle said.

This problem, according to a lawyer who works with residents of D.C.
Village and with other homeless families, is a legacy of dramatic cutbacks
in recent years in the number of emergency shelter units.

"There are homeless families in D.C. 365 days a year that need emergency
assistance and shelter, and the District does not acknowledge that," said
Sczerina Perot, a staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the
Homeless.

Five years ago, the District had 495 apartments exclusively to shelter
families in emergency situations. Now only 146 are available for emergency
shelter. Another 334 apartments are used for transitional and permanent
housing.

The District no longer offers emergency rental assistance, and its budget
for emergency shelter has dropped to $11.3 million from more than $21
million in fiscal 1994. The city also receives nearly $10 million in
federal grants for transitional or permanent hoursing.

The oversubscribed public housing system does not give priority to homeless
families, and federally subsidized housing is scarce. In addition, the hot
real estate market in the District has driven up rents.

"It is taking longer to move families out of transitional programs into
permanent housing," said Michael Ferrell, executive director of the D.C.
Coalition for the Homeless, which is under contract to the Community
Partnership to run a 28-unit apartment complex as emergency shelter for
families. "We don't have as many resources available to us."

On March 22, the 23 families remaining at D.C. Village woke up to find a
note that had been slipped under their bedroom doors: "The shelter will be
closing on March 31st. You need to pack your belongings and prepare to move
on March 30th or March 31st."

Some residents burst into tears at the shelter's front counter, which had
been the nurses station in the old nursing home. Others had angry exchanges
with case managers and staff members. Clyde Copeland, a single father with
three children, went to court, submitting a petition asking a judge to stop
the city from closing the shelter.

He also asked the court to stop the shelter from contacting child
protective services, which could remove children from parents who cannot
find temporary or transitional housing, and to require that city officials
provide "the necessary housing assistance to obtain adequate housing they
can afford for their families."

Sue Marshall, executive director of the Community Partnership, denied that
D.C. Village or any of the programs run by the nonprofit organization tries
to separate families "in order for them to be housed."

"We only call child protective services when there are legitimate issues of
child neglect and abuse," she said.

But regarding Copeland's point that the closing of the winter shelter
should be delayed, Marshall said: "We absolutely concurred.

"Never in the years we've done this program have we shut down" on March 31,
she said. "We're in the business of preventing, not causing, homelessness."

At a court hearing Wednesday, Copeland agreed to drop his request once
officials agreed to keep the shelter open until April 30.

Back at D.C. Village, the Salters are doing what they can to start anew.
The parents have gone to a job training session. Jeree is enrolled in
fourth grade. Charles Jr. will soon enter a subsidized day-care center.

They are waiting for their first D.C. welfare payment. That $463 check will
cover the security deposit on a one-bedroom apartment and leave them $14.

Where they will find the first month's rent, they still do not know.

END FORWARD

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