Washington D.C. Turning Youth Away From Homeless Shelters Despite $400 Million Budget Surplus

Homeless youth in Washington D.C. are being turned away in droves from shelters after the city slashed its budget for homeless children’s services.

In its latest budget, the city enjoys a $417 million budget surplus, yet they cut funding for youth homeless shelters by $700,000 and overall homeless services by $7 million. Mayor Vincent Gray has announced he will keep the surplus in the city’s savings account, which will now total $1.5 billion.

D.C.’s budget cuts are having a disastrous impact on the city’s homeless. As the Washington Post details, many youth are being turned away from shelters who no longer have the budget to accomodate them.

Counselors at one of the city’s largest shelters for homeless youths have had to turn away more than 80 unaccompanied children — some as young as 12 or 13 — who came to them for help in the past six weeks after the city cut more than $700,000 from the shelter’s budget. […]

For workers on the ground, the effect of lost — or redirected — money has been clear and immediate. One counselor at Sasha Bruce House recalled trying to counsel a sobbing teen seeking a place to sleep after her mother lost the family apartment, and being able to do little to help.

“To not be able to help somebody and know there is not any other option for them — it’s heartbreaking, it’s awful,” said Gina Bulett, the primary counselor. The program now just has five emergency beds, down from 16 last year, but houses dozens more in apartments.

The city’s cuts to homeless services come at a particular inopportune time as the number of people living on the streets continues to increase. A survey last year found 6,954 homeless people in our nation’s capital, a 6 percent increase from the year prior. It’s no surprise then, with increased demand and less funding for shelter beds, that the end result is scores of homeless individuals being turned away from shelters. One notable exception was two months ago when D.C. kept its shelters open throughout inauguration weekend, perhaps in an attempt to hide its homeless population from hundreds of thousands of revelers in town.

Charles M., a soft-spoken middle-aged man living in Washington D.C., was troubled by the budget cuts. “The daily struggle to get rest supersedes schooling, work, and even most health concerns,” he told ThinkProgress. Charles would know. When he was a young man, he founded a homeless shelter in Rhode Island. Now, decades later, Charles, who fell on hard times during the recent financial crisis, finds himself presently homeless. “Without a safe place to sleep,” he notes, “most other needs cannot be addressed, either by service providers or by the homeless person themselves.”

When money’s tight, services for homeless people are often the first items axed from a city’s budget. So what’s D.C.’s excuse now that times are good?