D.C. City Council passes legislation recognizing homelessness as a protected class against discrimination against housing Bill awaits mayor Bowser’s signature.(Courtesy Photo)

By H. R. Harris,
Special to the AFRO

Last month, the D.C. City Council passed the Human Rights Enhancement Amendment Act to amend the Human Rights Act of 1977. The bill makes it harder to discriminate against those living with homelessness, thus making homelessness a protected class in Washington, D.C.

Homeless advocates and members of the D.C. Councils have sought to pass some form of protection for its homeless citizens for years. The legislation would enable persons who wind up on the city’s streets, like John Alley, to apply for housing without discrimination– a major obstacle faced by persons living with homeless. Signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. would become the first city in the nation to pass such legislation.  

Three years ago, Alley developed a brain tumor and became homeless after he was unable to work due to a visual impairment. 

Alley was a vendor for StreetSense, a publication produced by and for homeless persons. He obtained a city voucher to secure housing and thought things would get better. 

He was wrong.

“I was shocked,” Alley said after taking the voucher to an apartment complex where he knew housing was available. The apartment manager turned Alley down, even though he was legally obligated to accept the voucher, Alley said. 

 The legislation would protect the homelessness from discriminatory practices, force law enforcement to undergo sensitivity training incorporate educational and sensitivity training and establish employee protections for the homeless against workplace harassment.

Although Bowser has yet to sign The Human Rights Enhancement Amendment Act, earlier this month at a ribbon cutting for a new 40-bed LGBTQ+ shelter for unaccompanied adults, Bowser touted the need to provide shelter to the city’s more than 5,000 persons living on the streets of the District, affirming the group’s right to obtain permanent housing. 

“We are proud to cut the ribbon on a shelter that embodies our D.C. values as well as our commitment to making homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring,” said Mayor Bowser. 

“We’re breaking down barriers to shelter, building community, connecting residents with the trauma-informed services they need to live healthy, happy lives, and getting Washingtonians back on a path to permanent housing,” Bowser said.  

District data shows a decrease in persons living in “literal homeless,” a term designating persons who live out on the streets with no address of record.

The District’s 2022 Point in Time (PIT) Count, an overview of homelessness in the District showed for the sixth consecutive year, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the District has declined.  Single adult homelessness decreased by 12 percent and family homelessness by 14 percent, according to the report.

Conversely, the 2022 Point in Time Count also revealed homelessness among veterans and unaccompanied youth was on the rise, increasing by 11 percent and 8 percent respectively. 

Christy Greenwalt, chair of the Metropolitan Council of Government’s Homeless Services Committee, stated that the decrease in overall homelessness observed during the Point in Time Count might be likely due to the moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, recently lifted this month.  

Bowser is expected to consider the measure before the D.C. Council votes on her 2023 fiscal year budget submitted this past spring. 

If someone needs an emergency shelter in the District, please contact the shelter hotline at (202) 399-7093 or dial 311. 

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