WASHINGTON – The District-run shelter for families is now caring for a record 600 children, a milestone that homeless advocates say highlights the need for District officials to help struggling families.
“In the inner city, there are many different family situations that allow them to break up,” says David Harrison, who sought help at Central Union Mission, which runs an emergency shelter for men, Wednesday.
According to the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, about 1,800 children are homeless in D.C. And about 1,000 families are homeless, a figure that increased 19 percent between 2011 and 2012.
“Because of joblessness and different things families are split up. Some children now are forced to work for themselves out on the street,” Harrison says.
The mission is joining a call for D.C. government to spend some of its $417 million budget surplus on services for the homeless.
“Families are struggling with basic necessities,” says the mission’s Director of Community Outreach Deborah Chambers. “Affordable housing, employment, the rising cost of rent and paying for basic necessities, it impacts the children.”
The Washington Post reports that families staying in the D.C. General Shelter for Families, which is housed inside a former hospital, complain of overcrowding, pests, a lack of play space for children and a lack of bath tubs. Limited space and too much paperwork turns families away.
And now lawmakers are listening. D.C. Councilman Jim Graham says he will lead a public hearing Feb. 28 at the shelter, 1900 Massachusetts Ave. SE, to discuss conditions at the District-run shelter.
Councilman Marion Barry has called for the District to use $100 million of the surplus to provide more affordable housing units and to provide services for the homeless and disadvantaged families.
Mission leaders say the best way for every day citizens to help is by donating food.