On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Homelessness in the D.C. area has been declining steadily since 2016, and 2020 marked the lowest number of people experiencing homelessness since 2001 (the year the region began tracking this grim data).
All these numbers are based on data released in May from a January 2020 count, so we don’t yet have a sense of where we are right now, and what the pandemic’s effect has had on people in our communities. We hope to get some sense of where we are from Laura Zeilinger, the Director of the D.C. Department of Human Services. We’ll also hear from other members of our community who are helping those in need, and see how virtual learning is going for children at shelters.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
- Eric Falquero Editorial Director, Street Sense Media; @streetsensedc
- Laura Zeilinger Director, D.C. Department of Human Services; @ZLauraJeanne
- Diana Ortiz President & CEO, Doorways; @DoorwaysVA
- Dr. Calvin Green Student-Staff Support Team Coordinator, Friendship Collegiate Academy High School; @FriendshipPCS
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll discuss how students experiencing homelessness in this region are faring as we approach a year into the pandemic, but first, homelessness in the D.C. area has been declining since 2016 and the homeless rate last year was the lowest since 2001. Yet, the homeless rate in D.C. is still twice the national average with the Black community representing 86 percent of adults experiencing homelessness in the city.
KOJO NNAMDIAnd since these numbers are based on data from January 2020, we don't yet have a sense of the pandemic's effect on the most vulnerable in our community right now. We're hoping to get a sense of that today. Joining me now is Laura Zeilinger, Director of the District's Department of Human Services. Laura Zeilinger, thank you for joining us.
LAURA ZEILINGEROh, Kojo, thank you so much for having me and for your coverage of this issue.
NNAMDIYou are the director of a 1200 person agency and addressing homelessness falls under your mission so to speak. What has the past year been like in addressing homelessness for your agency?
ZEILINGERWell, Kojo, it's been a mix of a lot of things. On the one hand, in our system that supports families, so adults who are accompanied by minor children we've been able to see the results of the system's reform we've invested in. So we've seen that families are able to get shelter at the time when they need it. We've been able to reduce the time they spend in shelter and support their movement into permanent housing very quickly, meaning that the District no longer relies on overflow motels for shelter. And we actually have only 15 percent the number of families in shelter today as we did in 2016 when we were first implementing our reforms.
ZEILINGERSo we've created a system that's working even during these challenging times. For single adults in congregate shelters as we talked about in the spring at the height of the pandemic, we've put a number of measures in place to protect the health and safety of individuals. And our operations have been complex. We've opened three hotels with FEMA funding that offers single room shelter for people with medical vulnerabilities as well as isolation and quarantine sites to curb any spread of infection within our shelters. And it's been really a tremendous operation community effort to really modify our system to keep individuals safe during the pandemic.
NNAMDILaura, the city recently completed the last of its smaller family shelters one in each ward to replace D.C. General. Remind us what was the idea behind that?
ZEILINGERWell, we knew that for families experiencing homelessness that there's a lot of trauma associated with that. And what families need is to be able to come into a place where they feel safe that welcomes them, that built for the needs of the children and adults in those families. And they should be embedded in our communities.
ZEILINGERSo in every single ward of the city we've opened short-term family housing sites that serve no more than 50 families. They are very intentionally designed with spaces for study, for play, for meetings with case managers. And they are beautiful and they fit well in community. And by doing so we've actually been able to really help families make that transition from shelter to housing much more quickly. We're maintaining an average length of time in shelter under 90 days knowing that families really want to get to a place of permanency and a home of their own. And so we've really seen a great deal of success with that program.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Eric Falquero, Editorial Director at Street Sense Media. Eric Falquero, thank you for joining us.
ERIC FALQUEROThank you for having me, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIEric, what is your sense of homelessness in the District? Do you get the impression that it may have increased over the course of the pandemic?
FALQUEROYeah. That's the question that's on everyone's mind and it's really hard to say. And I think it's certainly even more visible in that, you know, encampment cleanups are not happening as much per CDC guidance that they are still happening. And that some habits that folks relied on to survive are no longer possible, because of the various closures and shutdowns, etcetera. You know, I think we have through some of DHS's programs a better idea -- more certain count, because the annual count is always sort of an undercount. It's a snapshot, an estimate.
FALQUEROAnd so by seeing the number of folks that are coming in to shelter because other options are not as good anymore and through the hotel, the PEP-V program that DHS operates, I think we've had a better idea via DHS data of whose coming inside. And certainly more visible based on the number of people that we can see outside. But there is no hard, you know, count that I'm aware of through the people that write for Street Sense Media and the people that sell our paper. We certainly know and it can be assumed that everyone is struggling a lot more.
FALQUEROThrough our reporting there's economists that estimated that homelessness could increase from 40 to 45 percent nationwide. And that estimate was put out fairly early on in the pandemic, but held true when we circled back at the end of last year. But when you look closer at D.C., his model said that -- projected as six percent increase in homelessness. And when we talked to him he said that was largely, because our rate of homelessness was so high already. And we have the highest rate of any state in the country, and the sixth highest rate of any continuum of care in the country.
NNAMDIHere now is Christina in Washington D.C. Christina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINAGood afternoon. I'm staying at one of your PEP-V locations. I've been homeless for a little bit under two years. And some of the issues we have dealt with is being mistreated. I tested positive for COVID in April of last year. And it took me three days before I could tell one particular staff that I had symptoms, because I was more worried about being mistreated.
CHRISTINAI witnessed staff making the women, because I was at Harriet Tubman Shelter sit outside in the rain and cold for 12 hours waiting for an ambulance to come pick them up to take them to a quarantine site denying them food, water and even to use the restroom. I had witnessed security and staff mentally, verbally abusing the resident, the women and even men at other homeless programs, calling them stupid and ugly and dirty and just all types of disrespectful things that would break somebody's spirit.
CHRISTINAFor me as a person I don't feel I deserve to be mistreated. I know for a fact that I was just -- I just left Harriet Tubman about October. We have dealt with extreme temperatures where the facility has been probably 102 degrees and staff has denied us water to be able to cool off -- even cool water to be able to cool off.
NNAMDIChristina, before calling in to this broadcast, did you attempt to report this to anyone?
CHRISTINAI called APS. When there was a ...
CHRISTINAAdult Protective Services, because there was a mass cleaning in I think it was October and September and Street Sense did come out. And they had us stay outside from about nine o'clock to 5:00 p.m. so they can so called do a mass cleaning. And when we were coming back in, they told us we couldn't bring any of our belongings back in that we took out. Mind you, they gave us the bags to put them in.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to interrupt, because we don't have a great deal of time. Eric Falquero, she said Street Sense did come out. Are you familiar with what our caller Christina is talking about?
FALQUEROYes. And so Christina first responded to us sharing a story about homelessness amid the pandemic. And shared a photo via Twitter of some of the food and said that conditions at Harriet Tubman were subpar. And contacted us again when the sort of mass cleaning, which is a regular procedure that happens in the switch to the hyperthermia season was taking place.
FALQUEROAnd so we sent a reporter down that day and she spoke to a number of residents at the time. And then went back to the site that night, because as some of the residents contacted her and let her know that they weren't able to take all of their belongings back in. What we were told then is that the situation was because the emergency shelter -- the low barrier shelters are open 24-7 now and because of the pandemic instead of people leaving every day that people had accumulated more belongings than were allowed.
FALQUEROAnd so everyone had to take everything out with them, but was only allowed to take back in two bags. But the specific size of those bags didn't seem very clear. And so we went back and photographed a number of belongings that were discarded and thrown out after the fact.
ZEILINGEROh, wow. So first, I really am troubled by what Christina has experienced. Nobody should have to experience that kind of treatment in our system. And I want to encourage people to report those complaints to our agency through our Shelter Complaint Hotline at 202-673-4464. So we can also appropriately investigate. And there are ...
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt. Allow me to interrupt. Christina, did you report it to the hotline?
CHRISTINAI've called the hotline quite a few times.
CHRISTINAI've called APS and the hotline, nothing gets done. They just say, "It's just the way it is." And it's cruel.
ZEILINGERSo, again, I will personally follow-up on this complaint and as well as work on a review of complaints that have come into our hotline. The bottom line is that nobody deserves to be treated in a rude manner. And that we will look into it. I want to also acknowledge to that there are a whole host of things we're doing to try to improve the experience of people within our shelter system. Not only investing in building and upgrading new shelters for single adults similar to the success that we've had with the short-term family housing program.
ZEILINGERBut also by launching an educator and peer ambassador program so that we're working directly with residents in shelter to be part of improving the conditions there as well as keeping each other safe. And so I acknowledge there is more work to do in that space. I absolutely regret the experience, Christina, that you've had in our system. And I commit to working with our team to improve it.
NNAMDILaura Zeilinger, can you give us the number for that hotline again.
ZEILINGERSure. So complaints can be provided at 202-643-4464. You can also -- go ahead.
NNAMDINo, go ahead.
ZEILINGERAnd there is also on our website or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from @breadcoin, "Glad you're talking homelessness. A resource for those caring for those experiencing homelessness is breadcoin.org. It's a community funded food token used at local vendors." That's b-r-e-a-d-c-o-i-n.org. We've got to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing homelessness in the District with Laura Zeilinger, Director of the District's Department of Human Services. And Eric Falquero, the Editorial Director at Street Sense Media. Laura Zeilinger, a few weeks ago, the District's homeless population became eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. How is that process working? And how are you ensuring that they are actually getting the vaccine?
ZEILINGERSo we began administering vaccines on February 1st and are working with residents who are both in our PEP-V program as well as our low barrier shelter starting with the largest shelter. So unlike the rest of the population we're really partnering with Unity Healthcare in bringing the vaccine out to people understanding some of the challenges that folks may have otherwise getting appointments and getting to clinics.
ZEILINGERAnd so we've been able to -- we have an eight week plan to get out to our large low barrier shelters. And so far by -- as of today we've administered over 900 vaccines to residents and staff at our sites between shelter and hyperthermia. And will continue to do so. We will have finished our low barrier shelters first and second doses over the first eight weeks of that program. And people can follow our -- both our COVID response as well as our administration of the vaccine on our website. We have a story board at dhs.dc.gov that can give real-time updates of our entire COVID response as well as where we are with our vaccine program.
NNAMDIHow about people living on the streets including those living in tent communities? Are they also getting vaccinated?
ZEILINGERSo they will as part of our outreach. Our outreach teams will be out talking with people and being able to register them for vaccines that will happen in the latter half of our vaccine program. As we're figuring out the logistics of making sure that we've got the right supports in place to get people to a site within -- at the appropriate time to administer those vaccines. So we will be bringing -- going out to community to people who are staying unsheltered as well.
NNAMDIHere now is Reginald in Washington D.C. Reginald, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
REGINALDYes. I actually do some work with those who are homeless. And we've been going out to serve about four encampments a week. And so, you know, the situation there is that some of these services, some of the people we encounter, they may not fit those particular services. But there is a significant number of vacant units in the District of Columbia that these people could utilize. I'm just, you know, wondering, is there a way that we could use some of the vacant units in the city as something that FEMA or some federal agency could approve for use?
NNAMDIWell, Laura Zeilinger, that does not exactly fall under your mission so to speak. But do you indeed -- are you, indeed, able to collaborate say with the Department of Housing or the feds?
ZEILINGERSo we do collaborate with the Department of Housing and Community Development as well as the deputy mayor's office for Planning and Economic Development to ensure that as new units, new housing is built that we can do set asides for permanent supportive housing. And our agency is able to bring in some of the housing subsidies and supportive services. In the last year, we've been able to house more than 750 people in permanent supportive housing. And over the last five years, 3,000 people have exited homelessness to permanent supportive housing in the District.
ZEILINGERSo we are really focused on the creation of supportive housing for people. I agree fully with Mr. Black that that is exactly the solution to homelessness and there's a mayor who is really focused on solutions and on creating more affordable housing. And we should be putting each and every vacant building and unit to use for our community. And it does take an intergovernmental response. And we are working with partners in that way.
NNAMDIAnd, we have indeed talked about the fact that the overall number of people experiencing homelessness from 2016 to 2018 declined significantly. But, Eric Falquero, what concerns do you hear from those you work with, and where are the gaps in how the city is responding to the needs of those without shelter in your view?
FALQUEROI mean, the two biggest things that we hear from people experiencing homelessness and from advocates in the community are more investment in housing. You know, that everything that's labeled as affordable housing isn't necessarily affordable to those that are most in need. And also that, you know, we are making progress. And there are many success stories, but continued investment and, you know, continuing on with the reform of the system is critical.
FALQUEROWhile the numbers are going down there are many people that are not reflected in that count. For one, anyone who is couch surfing has doubled up. If you look at the Department of Education data, you can get a hint of that, because their definition of homelessness is slightly different. But anyone who is couch surfing also, you know, we rely on the prevention side of things on diversion programs and to help folks stabilize with family or friends or whatnot. So they're not counted as well. They're not in shelter. They're not unsheltered.
FALQUEROSo just making sure that while you see the numbers going down and while that is a positive indication and there's a lot of commendable progress being made, it remains an undercount, and many people are still in need. And as I know and Director Zeilinger agrees, there's so many people experiencing chronic homelessness who have been homeless for years and who need very targeted and extra assistance to exit homelessness. That, you know, housing saves lives and there are so many people still in need.
FALQUEROSo while we're moving in the right direction, we're not getting there fast enough by any means. And, you know, every year around this time during the city's budget season, we end up covering a demonstration, protest, etcetera or testimony in council from the advocacy group, The Way Home Campaign. And I haven't looked at this year's percentage on their proposal to be honest. But every year it's about one percent or 1.5 percent of the city's total budget that they estimate could be used to end chronic homelessness. So it's -- while we've made record investments during the Bowser administration, we're still not doing nearly enough to curb this crisis.
NNAMDILaura Zeilinger, the city has been criticized for its aggressive management of homeless encampments periodically cleaning them out. When and how are those decisions made?
ZEILINGERSo the encampment protocol is managed out of our deputy mayor for Health and Human Services Office. And really it is a very complex issue in terms of making sure that we're protecting the safety and hygiene of people in encampments. And oftentimes there is a need for cleaning to happen where people are staying outside. The complaints that come from neighbors and as well -- but the solution is the outreach and the connection to housing. And we maintain focus on that. Now during the pandemic as Eric mentioned the city is following the CDC guidelines as really working to try to engage people as we do every day all yearlong to support them with alternatives both with shelter with our PEP-V program and pathways into permanent housing.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding, but we don't have the numbers available yet. But from what you are looking at, do you expect an increase or a decrease in homelessness? And we only have about 30 seconds left in this segment.
ZEILINGERSo we will continue to see a decrease in homelessness among families. As I noted early on, Kojo, we've got about 85 percent fewer families that shelter today than we did five years ago and less than half as many -- about a third as many as last year. Our single adult numbers, even though, we're housing a lot of people, 750 people moving into housing, we see people in flowing into homelessness, which is why that prevention support is so important.
NNAMDIOkay. Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. And then later we'll discuss how students experiencing homelessness are faring. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to this conversation about homelessness in this region. We'll soon be discussing how homeless students are faring. But, Eric Falquero, the D.C. and federal eviction moratoriums have been extended throughout the pandemic and are now set to expire at the end of next month. They may be extended again. But they will eventually be lifted. Are you concerned about a potential homeless pandemic, so to speak, when they are lifted?
FALQUEROWe certainly are, and I think that's been a longstanding concern of many people since all this began. You know, the city has made a lot of rental assistance available. New programs were created in response to the pandemic, but it's not something -- a scale that the city can really handle on its own. You know, we're seeing federal emergency rental assistance funds coming together, but, you know, that sort of large amount of rental assistance, either direct to tenants or, you know, working directly with the landlords, but either way, your back rent is piling up in a major way.
FALQUEROYou know, at the end of last year, the city used some remaining Cares Act funds to incentivize landlords to forgive a little bit of back rent, that those funds could be used to pay off the rest to help catch some people up. But, again, it's just not an intervention that's available at scale for the amount of need. And as we and WAMU and DCist have reported, you know, unofficial evictions are still taking place, where folks are being intimidated. So, it's certainly a worry, and I think it's a reality unless rental assistance at a massive scale is made available.
FALQUEROAnd just before the segment wraps up, I'd like to put out there, as well, one thing that through our reporting that we're also paying close attention to is the pet-free hotels for medically vulnerable individuals. You know, it was recently announced that the federal government will reimburse 100 percent of the cost, as opposed to the previous 75 percent for that program.
FALQUEROBut D.C. is not intending to expand it at this time, because some of the costs are not reimbursable. But there are 555 medically vulnerable people on the waiting list as of DHS's briefing a couple weeks ago. So, it's something that we're really wondering what's going to happen to those folks, and if expansion -- and how likely it might be.
NNAMDISame question to you, Laura. Are you concerned about a potential rise in homelessness when eviction moratoriums are lifted? And, if so, how are you preparing for that day?
ZEILINGERWell, first I just want to really get out there that we have a lot of resources coming to the District. There have been $200 million in federal investments for emergency rental assistance. That is critical, and we know a lot of people need that help. So, our eviction prevention hotline is 1-888-349-8323. It's open Monday through Friday from 7:00 to 7:00. Please call if you need help with your rent. Even though we still have an eviction moratorium in place, it's not too soon to get help. And the best way to avoid eviction is to get help with past rent.
ZEILINGERThe District, we've put out -- really, collectively with our partners, so far -- just about $6.5 million dollars to help pay off rent arrears. And that's just a fraction of what is coming. And so really do -- the ability to get ahead and not see a huge upsurge in homelessness due to this pandemic is really about making sure that people get help with their back rent. And it's about prevention and we really are committed to making that happen. And we're going to work together with landlords and tenants on that. So, we know -- we've got resources here for folks, and we want them to call us. We can assist.
NNAMDIWell, we got a tweet from Jesse Rabinowitz: People are dying without housing. At least five people have died without housing in two weeks. D.C. has a budget of $16.9 billion. We know that housing ends homelessness. Why hasn't D.C. ended homelessness? And we got another tweet. The wayhomeDC tweets: Thanks for the shout-out, Eric Falquero. We're advocating for $100 million to end chronic homelessness for 3,193 households. That is less than 1 percent of D.C.'s budget.
NNAMDIThat said, Laura Zeilinger, for those listening who are homelessness or who fear becoming homeless or for people who know of those who are homeless, where can they go for help and what resources are available to them?
ZEILINGERSo, we have a range of resources available. We have shelter for everybody who needs it and to just find a safe place inside. We know we've got severe weather coming. People can -- if they're concerned about a neighbor or they themselves need that emergency help, they can call our shelter hotline at 202-399-7093.
ZEILINGERAnd we also have investments in housing, in supportive housing and affordable housing and short to medium rent assistance that can help people in their homelessness -- not to the degree to which the way home campaign is advocating, but -- and we know that this is both a regional issue, as well as a district issue. And we need the federal government to also invest, particularly as we look at the District's budget outlook due to the pandemic.
ZEILINGERSo -- but there's a safe place for everyone to come inside. We're committed to the safety and wellbeing of every single life in our community. And it takes all of us together, our partners at Way Home campaign, our partners who are doing straight outreach and running our shelters, as well as our housing programs.
ZEILINGERAnd I just want to commend that those folks have been out there each and every single day providing services through the pandemic. And we know, as a community, that is committed to keeping people safe and ending homelessness. And I'm really proud to work for a mayor who's made such historic investments, and among so many community members who have really made it a priority to care for their neighbors.
NNAMDIHere's Joanna, in Ward 3 in D.C. Joanna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOANNAHi. I live near one of the -- well, I understand that there is a homeless shelter for, I think it's mothers and young children in each of the eight wards. And I live near the one in Ward 3. And I'm just wondering how those are working out.
ZEILINGERThey've been working out exceptionally well. I think people thought that somehow when we had D.C. General, that we could get by, that they were afraid when we opened these sites if we made them too nice, people would stay, and we would need to just keep opening more. But what we've seen is we've been able to open really beautiful, wonderful programs in partnership with community providers. Families can get shelter every single day of the year, not just during hypothermia, when they need it.
ZEILINGERAnd they're exiting homelessness much more rapidly, to permanent housing. And so, communities throughout our city have welcomed our neighbors. And we have -- it's been very smooth. I think there was a lot of fear before we opened in community. And folks have come to embrace their -- that these programs are there, and oftentimes don't even notice that they're operating. So, it's been good for families and, in many cases, something that, as a community, people are really proud of.
NNAMDIAnd finally, Eric Falquero, how can people experiencing homelessness who want to learn more about Street Sense Media get information? And how can anyone listening support your organization and what you're doing?
FALQUEROYes. All information is available at StreetSenseMedia.org. And for anyone interested in, you know, working in our No Barrier Employment program, we offer training every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:00 p.m., at 1317 G Street. And if you're looking to support our organization, there's a donate button on StreetSenseMedia.org, as well as, you know, we're always looking to work with more volunteers. We're a very small and very much a community-driven organization.
FALQUEROAnd the biggest thing is if you're a reader of Street Sense, you know, we really encourage you to continue supporting our vendors during this time, even if you're not able to buy a physical paper. And you can download our mobile payments app to pay with a credit card if you're social distancing or just reading online. Thank you.
NNAMDIEric Falquero is the editorial director at Street Sense Media, and Laura Zeilinger is the director of D.C's Department of Human Services. Thank you both for joining us. This pandemic has affected all of us, but it has especially, especially affected children. That applies to all children, but certainly children whose families are dealing with homelessness during these trying times. Joining me now is Diana Ortiz, the president and CEO of Doorways in Arlington, a nonprofit that creates pathways out of homelessness. Diana Ortiz, thank you for joining us.
DIANA ORTIZThank you so much, Kojo, for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Dr. Calvin Green is the student staff support team coordinator at the Friendship Collegiate Academy High School in Northeast Washington. Dr. Green, thank you for joining us.
DR. CALVIN GREENGood afternoon. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIDiana Ortiz, people tend to think homelessness is only an issue in cities. You're in Arlington, one of the richest counties in the country, but people are still homeless there. Talk about Arlington's homeless and about your work with Doorways.
ORTIZThank you. Yes. So, we are Doorways. We are the only provider of shelter for domestic violence survivors. And we are one of two shelters for families experiencing homelessness. We've been in the community for many decades. And while there's been a lot of effort to reduce our families experiencing homelessness, it's still a problem.
ORTIZSometimes we don't see it, because families, you won't see them on the street, again, you know, with the children. They may be double (word?) triple (word?) living unstably from place to place. And, definitely, at least 50 percent of our clients are children.
NNAMDIDiana, as I understand, one of the core services of Doorways, as you just pointed out, is children services. How are you helping children who are in your shelters, or an apartment you've provided for them and their families?
ORTIZYeah, so we have a comprehensive approach to domestic violence, sexual assault and family homelessness. And we understand that some of these challenges are a two-generation approach. So, while, you know, families' parents, the adults, are getting a lot of the support, we are also very mindful that children may be in specific needs of developmental assessment, support connecting them to vital services, addressing trauma that they have experienced, either because of the housing stability or the unsafe conditions that they're experiencing at home.
ORTIZSo, we have dedicated staff working directly with the children and working directly with the parents, so they are able to support and be the best parents they can be for their kids.
NNAMDIDiana Ortiz, in what ways are the children in your shelters struggling, and how are you helping them?
ORTIZYeah, so early on, I don't think anyone anticipated that this pandemic was going to be, you know, taking so long. So, there are we were able to make a lot of changes that supported virtual remote learning, parents supporting their kids, you know, things like physical space. Our families have private rooms, and some of our families are living in their own houses, as you pointed out. We try really hard, again, as part of the local community to move them out of shelter, into their own homes. So, families are, you know, doing that with, like, rental assistance and supportive services.
ORTIZSo, the physical space was a little easier to maneuver, and then there are situations that are not that easy to solve, you know, like technology. We work very closely with Arlington County Public Schools. Our kids have computers or iPads. But not having the social connection, not having that sense of constant. For many of our kids, the only constant in their lives is going to school and seeing their peers and having that interaction.
ORTIZThat's been a real struggle, specifically for families that maybe are not -- English is not their first language. They may not be very strong with technology. And, again, I think, like, many of us can relate to that. So, again, at Doorways we see parents going through the same challenges that we, as parents, are trying to support our kids. The challenges of also having to worry about where your kids are going to sleep or what's going to happen next.
NNAMDICalvin Green, you have students at Friendship Collegiate Academy High School whose families don't have permanent shelter. How do you identify who those are, and how are you helping them during this difficult time?
GREENYes, sir. Yes, sir. I will start, as an overarching umbrella, overall, within our network of Friendship public charter schools' 5,000 students. We have about 325 students in transition. And what we try to do is change the narrative and the language. So, we don't like to necessarily use the word homeless. We say more of our students are in transition, or that our families are in transition. And taking on this role, it really helped me understand a whole lot better, because at one point, when I was homeless.
GREENBut the way that it's defined here in this area is you're just in transition. So, if you stay with someone, you're homeless. I've been homeless, in college and things like that, so it helps me understand a little bit better as I work with my families. The students that I work with in my building, specifically of the 325, I have about 20 students who are in transition. So, with our homeless families or students that are in transition, we have about 22 who are in transition.
GREENAnd in my building, we have a program called a Learning Hub program, where I have about seven scholars in this actual program with the school in our learning hub, where we offer on-campus support during this virtual experience. So, of the 20 students that are in transition, we have about seven roughly students who come into the building for academic support each and every day in the virtual space.
NNAMDIHave you -- go ahead.
GREENSo, this is the one way that I have been able to keep in constant contact with scholars that are in transition to better support them throughout the year as well as especially in this virtual space, as we continue to maneuver through this pandemic.
NNAMDIAs the pandemic has progressed, have you seen an increase in the number of students that you would describe as in transition?
GREENI would say that, yes, I have, during the midst of this pandemic. And that's primarily because a lot of our families don't self-identify. As we prepare for reenrollment again this year for the upcoming school year, we ask families if they're in transition. And some families will identify. And there have been some instances, especially during this pandemic, where some families did not self-identify, and I found out through a community organization that I may have had -- I may have additional five to seven families that are in transition.
GREENSo, it's been very challenging in this space, because a lot of families don't want to share that information. A lot of students definitely don't want to share that information. So, relying on community partners to better offer support for those families that are in transition has been very helpful in this space, because our numbers have increased, a little bit.
NNAMDIDiana Ortiz, I'd imagine for children in shelters, that going to school is a big deal for them. They get to leave the shelter, socialize. Oftentimes, they're provided breakfast and lunch. What is life like for them now?
ORTIZYeah, so Calvin mentioned, there is a sense of pride in some families that are -- you know, it's hard when, like, you're connected remotely, maybe from the kitchen, and someone is passing by and students ask questions. So, there is -- it's different. We have seen families adjusting well and kids doing well with remote learning. And our kids are always the ones that are teaching us resilience and being flexible. And then we're seeing some kids and some teenagers, specifically, that it's very difficult.
ORTIZThen like the social connection that you get from seeing your friends and going to school and, as you said, just keeping a constant and a routine, it's very difficult, very hard to replicate when you don't have that, and especially for so long. Parents are doing their best. They're constantly juggling and seeing what -- you know, how can they prioritize?
ORTIZThere's been a couple programs where, like, kids can go and have, like, supervised learning. But it's very restricted in terms of scheduling, so it's not very conducive, you know, for longer hours for parents that are trying to work. And there are age restrictions, as well. On top of that, I think that we're all dealing with the stress and the fear of, you know, they're worried, so the health concerns and how, you know, all of that affects our kids.
NNAMDICalvin Green, kids in transition often rely on getting meals at school, breakfast, lunch, snacks. Has Friendship Collegiate Academy High School continued providing food to those in need since going virtual?
GREENYes, sir. We actually have continued to do that. I spoke about the roughly seven scholars that I have that come into our learning hub four days a week. Those scholars that I have that have identified as in transition come into the building, and those scholars get breakfast, lunch and a snack every day, like they traditionally would in the space, in the face-to-face, brick-and-mortar model.
GREENAlso, there are several campuses across the Friendship network that offer food services where families can pick up food on respective days of the week to have for their families. And we even have a delivery option, as well, where for those families who can't come into the building to pick up, we have a staff of individuals who deliver food to those students and to those families that are in transition, or those that are in our campus community that have a need for food, as well.
NNAMDIHave you seen an increase in students in need of food over the past year?
GREENYes, sir. There's definitely been a -- there definitely has been an increase in students who do need access to food services and to actually food. We initially started the program maybe twice a week, back when we first broke for the pandemic, the food delivery. And we had to increase it to match the need, so we had to increase the number of days that we offered it across the District, and also provide the delivery option to support more families.
NNAMDIHere now is Alyssa, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Alyssa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALYSSAHi. I just wanted to ask your panelists, in addition to reaching out with funding, are there any items that the community can give to support that maybe we wouldn't even necessarily think about? Because I'm sort of wondering about unexpected items.
ORTIZFirst you, Diana Ortiz.
ORTIZThank you for asking that question. We have -- definitely, Doorways has a wish list and need for basic elements that as, you know, the caller just said, sometimes are unexpected when you have kids more time at home. I would encourage us to visit our website, doorwaysva.org. We have, again, like most pressing needs, sometimes for basic needs. Our families living in their supportive housing program we're definitely seeing more instability in, like, their employment. So, basic needs come out, you know, the highest priority.
NNAMDISame question to you, Dr. Green.
GREENThank you for that question. It's going to sound cliché, but it is. What I found is students still need, like, the basics, like school supplies. Especially in this pandemic space, we've been very cognizant as a network of what we allow in and what we allow out. So, I do know that we've gone to the one-to-one technology, where scholars have technology at home, but something as simple as a pencil or pen or a notebook, students need those types of simple items to keep at home.
GREENBecause when they do come back into the building, like those that come into the Learning Hub program, we had to have a separate set of supplies for them. So, there's a set for them at home and a set for them in school, as well, so that they don't cross-contaminate, you know, with mixing up the articles that they use to help with their learning.
GREENAlso, those simple toiletry items. I still have families constantly asking for toiletries and things like that, you know, that they normally would ask and then we would provide support for, if the students were in the brick-and-mortar, as well. So, definitely, we've done a great job providing the one-to-one technology for scholars. But it's the simple things as notebook paper, pencils, pens, you know, spirals and things like that to help better support the scholars, so they have a set at home, and they have a set at school as well.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of being at home, are the students that are experiencing being in transition or homelessness, are they struggling academically, compared with their peers?
GREENI would say one thing that has really strengthened during this pandemic is...
NNAMDI(overlapping) I'm afraid we only have about a minute left, but go ahead.
GREEN...maintaining personal connection with families. So, I actually have had some scholars who've excelled, virtually. And I've had some scholars who struggled virtually. So, those scholars in transition that have struggled more virtually, I have invited them into the building for the Learning Hub program, and they've been doing extremely well since they started to come in.
NNAMDIDiana Ortiz, finally, for those listening who want to help with what you're doing, who want to donate time or money, where should they go for more information? I think you mentioned your website?
ORTIZThank you. Yes. So, I also want to say if someone is in danger or experiencing domestic violence, they can call our Doorways 24/7 hotline at 703-237-0881. And if you're a member of the community, you're interested in learning more about what we do, volunteering or donating, our website: doorwaysva.org. You can also call 703-504-9400. Thank you.
NNAMDIDiana Ortiz is president and CEO of Doorways, a nonprofit that creates pathways out of homelessness. And Dr. Calvin Green is the student staff support team coordinator at the Friendship Collegiate Academy High School. Thank you both for joining us. Today's show on homelessness and how to alleviate it was produced by Kurt Gardinier.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, last summer's Black Lives Matter protests focused on police accountability, but they also exposed how racial inequality is built into nearly all of our institutions. In the latest Kojo in Your Community, we spoke with local leaders and lawmakers about how we might dismantle structural racism. We'll hear about some of these bold ideas. That all starts at noon, tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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