Homelessness is a blight on a civilized nation, and the problem is acute in our nation’s capital. As the economy has floundered and the unemployment rate has soared, a growing number of homeless families from outside the District have migrated into the City in search of shelter. This has placed a burden on an already strained social services network. D. C. officials say 10 percent of the families most in need of shelter come from outside the City during the summer. Since 2008, officials say, the number of homeless families migrating into the District has tripled.
Last fall the D. C. City Council referred the problem to a committee for study. So far, we have not seen a report.
Advocates for banning nonresidents from homeless shelters argue that the proposed policy could make it easier for District residents to get help. Attorneys for the homeless ask, “How can you require people who live inside to verify their D. C. residency?”
If a ban on nonresident use of facilities were passed, I can imagine what problems my friend Joe would encounter if he reached a shelter on a cold winter night.
Resident manager: Are you a resident of D. C.?
RM: How long have you lived in D. C.?
Joe: All my life.
RM: Where were you born?
Joe: In Lafayette Park.
RM: That’s closed.
Joe: My mother was there in the 1970s.
RM: Can you show me documents proving your residency?
Joe: I don’t have any.
RM: What about a driver’s license?
Joe: I don’t have one.
RM: Where do you get mail?
Joe: My check comes to a mail box at the Post Office on Capitol Street.
RM: I see you have a cell phone.
Joe: Yes. It’s quite new.
RM: Would you give me your number?
Joe: Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?
RM: Not really. We work closely with Homeland Security against terrorism. As long as phone companies aren’t actually breaking into your bank account, who cares if they’re watching you? It’s called mobile tracking. which shopping centers have used.
Joe: OK. Here’s my number. I don’t give it to everyone.
The Resident Manager punched in a few numbers as well as Joe’s cell phone. In a moment he said, “I see you spent last night in Maryland.”
Joe: I went to sleep on a bus and failed to get off at American University. I called my girlfriend to find out what shelter she was in and caught the next bus back to town.
RM: What are you studying at American University?
Joe: How to get federal grants to become a lobbyist.
RM: You’re one of us, Joe. Come on in.