Think Globally, Advocate Locally: Standing up for Playtime’s Families
By Jamila Larson, Executive Director
As a direct service organization, our first priority is providing children with the time, space, tools, and support to play. But the fact that none of our children have permanent homes in one of the most powerful cities in the world makes it imperative that we also operate through a social justice and equity lens. Our volunteers, supporters, and families have an inside view of homelessness that few policymakers understand.
Right now, the D.C. Council is making changes to the Mayor’s proposed FY2018 budget before passing it at the end of this month. Plans for the seven replacement shelters that will make it possible to close D.C. General are moving forward. The city’s new policy of providing year-round shelter to families with no other place to go is stabilizing the flow into shelters. And the Mayor’s proposed budget prevents looming cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is all good news. But given the Mayor’s ambitious goals of ending homelessness in the District, advocates are concerned that the budget, as it stands, falls short in several key areas—areas we hope the Council will fix.
Providing every eligible family with a housing voucher would cost $2 billion, out of a total city budget of $13 million. While we don’t yet have the political will to house the 40,000 families on the waiting list for subsidized housing, it’s important to help city leaders understand that not every family will be well-served by Rapid Rehousing. This program has been the intervention of choice for years because it offers a short-term subsidy for 6 to 12 months before families are left to pay market-rate.
Many families need more than a temporary voucher before being faced with market rate rent they likely will never be able to afford, cycling them in and out of costly shelters. The mayor’s proposed budget made investments in Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) and Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) but falls far short of what is needed. The mayor added $3.8 million for 117 PSH units and $1.7 million for 85 TAH units. We are asking the Council to increase these investments. An additional $5.5 million will provide PSH to 200 families in need of supportive services along with long-term housing; $4.2 million in Targeted Affordable Housing would help house 214 families in need of long-term affordable housing for a total ask of $12.7 million this budget cycle.
D.C.’s large and worsening affordable housing shortage threatens the stability and survival of thousands of families who don’t earn enough to afford skyrocketing market-rate rents. Making sure these families have homes will take years of sustained budget increases. Yet the proposed budget puts no new funding into D.C.’s local rent supplement program (LRSP), the tool most critical to serving families struggling with poverty. We support a $10 million increase to this program, per the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s recommendation.
2. Child Care
Every child deserves safe, enriching early childhood education, but there is only enough space in licensed child care programs to serve about a third of the 22,000 children under age three in D.C. Quality child care is critical to support homeless parents entering the workforce and is predictive of preschool and school success. The budget proposes expanding market-rate child care capacity for 1,300 more children, but does nothing to:
- improve the quality of child care for low-income infants and toddlers,
- address compensation for child care workers, or
- increase accessibility to low-income families by providing more vouchers.
We are asking the Council to put a $13 million downpayment on a three-year effort to align child care subsidy rates with cost of care, to do more to address the child care crisis for low-income families.
3. Support Services
Most families in shelters need more than just housing; they need tailored support services to help them achieve self-sufficiency and increase the odds they can stay in their homes. Services that include job readiness, training, and placement help; substance abuse and mental health services when needed; child care referrals; and parenting help as appropriate.
Children pay a serious emotional, behavioral, and academic price for homelessness, among other risk factors. We highly recommend social workers throughout the homeless services system. These children’s services coordinators would provide needs assessments, educational advocacy, referrals and service coordination to ensure children’s needs are addressed and ensure they do not fall through the cracks. We are working on developing a long-term campaign to advocate for this service equity in shelters.
Playtime staff, volunteers, and supporters will meet with several key councilmembers this month to ask them to go to bat for our families when hammering out a final budget. The city’s ability to make these investments is hampered by $100 million in tax cuts. Advocates hope the city will, at least, hold off on the estate tax and business tax cuts that amount to $40 million, and instead help fund our city’s goals to end homelessness.
Join us in writing an email to your councilmember, and make your voice hard for Playtime families.