My name is Charlotte Hovland and I am a lifelong Washingtonian and a current resident of Ward 4. I am grateful to be testifying today as a member of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), a grassroots organization that brings together Jews and allies to advocate for social, racial, and economic justice here in DC. As a JUFJ member and DC resident, I wanted to express that I’m glad to see funding for new permanent supportive housing vouchers and services for 760 households in the Mayor’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and I’m asking the Council to keep that funding in the final version of the budget.
I first became involved with JUFJ while serving in a Jewish service organization in a placement at a drop-in center in downtown DC. While serving in this position, which I held between autumn 2020 and autumn 2021, I had the opportunity to work with and get to know many Washingtonians who were struggling to survive homelessness.
When I started out at my placement, FY 2020 was winding down, the Covid-19 pandemic was rapidly reshaping the use of human services resources in the District, and our team was wondering what the budgets in coming years might hold.
By far the most difficult part of a difficult year was when I would meet with people who had been experiencing homelessness for years, who had documented vulnerabilities in physical or mental health, but who, month after month and year after year, were never matched with a housing resource. Working the phones at our office, I often got in touch with people in the midst of convoluted journeys: someone at a church sent them to someone at an aid organization who sent them to someone at a local government agency who sent them to me, everyone along the chain promising that the next person would finally be able to help. I would take their information, conduct an assessment, and encourage them to come in for meals and other services, but I couldn’t promise what they needed most: housing. People often asked me if there was something they were doing wrong, some other resource they needed to try, some secret reason why they weren’t getting help. They were doing nothing wrong, there were simply many deeply vulnerable people in need of housing resources and relatively few resources allocated in the budget. There is a verse in the Torah that says, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” [Lev 19:16], which is often interpreted to mean, ‘you are obligated to help when your neighbor is in danger.’ On some days, I worried that, if I wasn’t quite standing idly by the blood of my unhoused neighbors, I was standing by with a mop and an apology, explaining that it was a shame, but there were just so many people bleeding.
In this context, last year’s work by the Council and District advocates to secure funding for permanent supportive housing for over 2,400 households was transformative. I am grateful to this Council for the hope and the resources that have come to DC residents who have been matched to housing resources in the past fiscal year.
However, chronic homelessness is still ongoing for too many individuals and families in the District. In 2023, I am asking the Council to reaffirm their commitment to ending chronic homelessness by including $26 million in the budget to fund permanent supportive housing interventions for an additional 260 families and 500 individuals.