Georgetown Law Students Publish Recommendations on Homelessness in D.C.

December 11, 2013 —

There was the man who lost his work truck, triggering a series of events that ultimately left him living on the street. There was the woman who explained in frustration how even someone lucky enough to find an affordable apartment must then figure out how to scrape together a landlord's application fee. And there were the shelter residents who told of bed bugs, rodents, and spoiled food. 

Students from The Community Justice Project at Georgetown University Law Center heard these and many similar stories while researching their new report, "Unaccompanied Homeless Adults: Increasing Resources in D.C." During the recession, resources and attention were shifted to the increased number of homeless families. However, another segment of the homeless population, "unaccompanied" homeless adults who enter the shelter system without children or a spouse, face their own set of challenges. The students presented their findings and recommendations at D.C.'s City Hall on December 5, and the full report was published December 9.

Unaccompanied homeless adults confront specific gaps in resources that might otherwise prevent them from becoming homeless and help them exit homelessness, according to the students' findings, which stem predominantly from direct conversations with 40 homeless men and women. The students also interviewed members of the homeless services community, including government representatives, and nonprofit and private sector service providers. 

"It was important for us to use the voices of the homeless to identify the resource gaps. Since we are outsiders to the community, the personal insights from those who have experienced homelessness were invaluable to our project," said Aleshadye Getachew, L'14, one of the student researchers. "We were also told that our being outsiders to the community would enable us to see both strengths and opportunities with fresh eyes." 

The report analyzes potential federal and local governmental funding sources that can improve services for this population, and makes new recommendations for legislative and policy improvements. It focuses on three broad areas that contribute to homelessness: a lack of assistance programs for addressing personal crises, such as substance abuse and health issues; a lack of affordable housing; and a lack of employment opportunities. It also addresses major barriers to transitioning out of homelessness, including insufficient access to information about services, undesirable shelter conditions — to the point that some individuals prefer to stay on the streets — and ineffective maintenance of support networks. By interviewing individuals who have experienced these problems first-hand, the students were able to pinpoint potential steps toward resolving them, such as expanding the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and other services. They also identified ways to enhance employment opportunities, improve shelter conditions, and build up support systems.

The Community Justice Project is one of 15 law clinics at Georgetown Law, which consistently has the most highly ranked clinical program in the country. Students in The Community Justice Project learn how to advocate for individual and organizational clients using a wide range of legal strategies and tactics, including litigation and courtroom advocacy, public policy research and analysis, media outreach, and community organizing. The report was initiated by SOME, Inc. (So Others Might Eat), a client of The Community Justice Project. However, the students' findings are their own, and do not reflect the position of SOME, Inc. 

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