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Growing Crisis in D.C.

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Families, Housing, Policy Advocacy, Prevention, Shelter

Growing Crisis Takes Over D.C. – Auburn Trotter, NCH Intern

When I moved to DC to intern with NCH, I knew that I would gain a new perspective on the housing policies in America, but never did I think that the nation’s capitol would be suffering from such a crisis. In January 2014, a Point-in-Time count showed that a total of 7,748 people experienced homelessness  in the District of Columbia. This number increased 12.9%  from the previous year’s count. While cities surrounding the metropolitan area have decreased their homeless populations, the District has not seen much change. In fact, D.C.’s homeless population continues to rise at an alarming rate.

It’s important to first recognize that there are city officials who have fought hard to push forward possible solutions to this issue. It wouldn’t be fair to say that our officials haven’t done anything to try and curb this issue. Legislation has been introduced and passed. Plans to transition families from shelters to permanent homes are being strategized. Our leaders have the will to address the issue but even with these efforts the problem has continued to spiral out of control. So the lingering question becomes, why does homelessness continue to exist at a crisis level in the nation’s capital? The answer is two simple words: affordable housing!

There are many reasons that people find themselves homeless, but the lack of affordable housing remains one of the leading causes. With rents rising all around the city, what are people left to do? Some would say “go live with friends or relatives,” but a majority of the time families do not have room to accommodate others in their living space. So the next natural answer would be to report to the Public Housing Authority (PHA) and seek assistance. Thanks to the 2013 sequester and budget cuts, this has become a dead-end option. With funds being cut by 5%, PHAs across the country encounter difficulties trying to serve those in need. In fact, DC’s housing authority closed its Section 8 voucher wait list, which contained 70,000 people at the time, in April of 2013 and has not re-opened since.

After being told “NO” on several instances, the next and last resort for many people is a shelter. Many of the residents at D.C. General emergency shelter, the area’s largest family shelter, will tell you that they are thankful for the shelter and for having a roof over their heads, but it is not a place where they want to be raising a family. Many have jobs where they work long hours, just to receive a poverty level income. City officials want them to apply for assistance programs where, after their time in the program has ended, they face a rent payment of $900-$1200 depending on the size of the apartment.

Homelessness and increasing rents are serious issues that need an urgent response.  Ultimately, the homeless crisis will continue to get worse unless the city invests in sustainable, affordable housing for its residents. A strong housing policy could significantly reduce the size of our current homeless population and prevent thousands of others from losing their homes. There is no reason that we cannot decrease homelessness in our city. But we must all take action.

#NHHAW – What Comes Next?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness

What’s next? Building Hunger and Homelessness Awareness beyond November – Deirdre Walsh

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week brings together high schools, colleges, community groups, and faith-based organizations in the common cause to educate their communities about poverty in America. The issues of hunger and homelessness, however, are more than a week’s worth of problems for many Americans. Veterans return from war suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with little support, which too often can lead them to life on the streets. LGBTQ youth are at risk of being rejected by their families and the general public and make up close to half of all unaccompanied homeless youths in America. Women in domestic violence situations are forced to choose between an abusive home or an unstable life without a home. Families are riddled with debt from the lack of housing assistance and affordable healthcare and must decide which bills to pay or buy food for dinner. Poverty has many different faces and the causes of homelessness are just as varied as the people who endure it. The issues of hunger and homelessness cannot be fully understood or addressed in one week. Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is just the start of what you and your local community can do year round.

How can the actions you took this November be continued year round? There are so many great ways! Make volunteering at a local soup kitchen or shelter a part of your weekly or monthly routine by asking a friend to commit to it with you. Create a community forum or book club with regular meetings meetings focused on understanding the social issues relating to poverty. Challenge different organizations to try to out-do your events each month. Make a regular date to have dinner with someone who faces food insecurity. Whatever you are comfortable with, we hope you will commit to this cause and remain an active advocate for those living in poverty.

Addressing the goals of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week can and should be more than a week’s affair, however, starting dialogue and open discussion in your community is the first step. When people are talking about the lack of affordable housing, the criminalization of homelessness, and the discrimination against LGBT homeless youths you know that they can see past the stereotypes and understand the realities homelessness. Over 3.5 million men, women and children will go without a place to sleep and even more will be unable to feed and sustain themselves. Students, community groups and local organizations can work year round to assist and provide needed resources and have the capabilities to engage local civic leaders and policy makers to remove obstacles for America’s poor. Hunger and Homelessness may be one week in November, but the lessons and programs started can be a year round initiative for all. Bring poverty, its hardships and its causes, to the forefront of social and political discussions to give everyone a home this year. Resolve to fight poverty!

#NHHAW – Learning to Lobby

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

Learning How to Lobby – Jennifer Warner

You are one of 319,247,005 American citizens. That number grows by, on average, one person every 13 seconds. With such a large pool of people, it’s hard to believe that anything you do or say will affect the laws that govern us all. It seems unlikely that any legislator would listen to you and it is intimidating to consider asking them to. As daunting as it might seem, I have seen first-hand that the American political system is designed for each of us to be able to access and influence elected officials, if we take the right steps

Anything a person does to try to influence the actions of legislators is considered lobbying. You may have a negative connotation of this word; in fact, 61% of Americans hold an unfavorable opinion of lobbyists and 81% believe that lobbyists bribe legislators for votes. However, lobbying simply means advocating for policy decisions that you or your organization would like to see. One group I’ve gotten involved with, called SAVE for All, believes budget decisions should protect low-income and vulnerable people. To encourage this, SAVE members visit the staff of Senators and Representatives who sit on funding committees and have an open dialogue about community needs and funding possibilities. These conversations involve both education about the issue and the exchange of personal opinions. This is direct lobbying: a face-to-face exchange of information and opinion.

However, lobbying doesn’t necessarily mean in-person meetings with on Capitol Hill. You can communicate with your Congressperson wherever you are, through letters, email, and phone calls. To find out how to best contact your Senators and Representatives, look up their websites at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov. On their official websites, you can also find the location of their closest district office, which is their office in your local community. When contacting your elected officials, try to pick one or two specific issues that you care about. (For ideas, go to NCH’s “Campaigns” tab!) Research the topic thoroughly and clarify your own stance on the issue. When your write, call, or present to a staff person, be clear and concise with your argument. If you called or sent a letter, ask for a response from the Congressperson, and if you met with a staffer, send a follow up email thanking them for their time.

Your elected officials can only serve your interests if they know what those interests are, so communication is essential. Engaged citizens should tell their local Representatives and Senators what they want, as the primary job of those officials is to represent the interests of their own district or state. Your senators are there to represent each person in your state and your representative works for the 732,203 people in your immediate community. They are your voice among the 319,247,005 in this country—make sure that they are saying things you agree with.

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