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D.C. Council Passes Law Limiting Shelter Access for Homeless

Homeless populations in D.C. may be getting hit with even more bad news just days before the holidays.

On a 10-2 vote, the D.C. Council  passed legislation Dec. 5 that would require homeless people to provide documentation proving previous D.C. residency before entering the city’s shelters.

The Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act has been described by city officials as a series of necessary and largely technical reforms to ensure that homeless individuals and families have access to shelter in dire emergencies, but are otherwise steered to more permanent housing options that offer them more stability and are less expensive for the city.

​However, the most the controversial portion of the bill has been the legal requirement that D.C. provide homeless individuals and families space in a shelter on nights when the temperature falls below freezing, making the capitol only one of three jurisdictions in the country to have this.

“We want to make sure we are serving District residents first as a priority, and we need the law to allow us to do that so that we’re not trying to meet a larger national and regional affordable housing need but we are first focusing on residents who have no other place to go,” said Laura Zeilinger, director of D.C.’s Department of Human Services.

Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) was one of the two members against the bill, which was originally proposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

“More than half of the population of families in our families shelter come from Wards 7 and 8,” White said. “I voted against this bill because it’s a bad bill. It took 11 amendments suggested by at least six members. I could not see how his bill would fundamentally make homeless services better. The District was quick to put hundreds of thousands of dollars to declare D.C. as a sanctuary city, but services for our own legal residents are neglected every day.”

David Grosso (I-At Large), who also voted against the bill, agreed it was a bad choice.

“We are a city that has lots of money in savings,” he said. “At some point we all have to take a deep breath and draw a line, and we need to invest [money] in people. I think we have an obligation as elected officials to stand up for the people who most need us to stand up for them, and that means we need to be investing in homeless services.”

With an estimated 7,000 homeless people living in D.C., including 1,100 families, the fate of many disenfranchised residents remain in the air.

Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) was absent during the Dec. 5 vote.

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Lauren M. Poteat

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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