Most people in the Georgetown community are familiar with the grim realities of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Beside ritzy storefronts and gourmet restaurants reside members of the District’s homeless population. The number of D.C. residents without homes has risen 20 percent over the past year, and an unfortunate decrease in funding for the homeless population could mean a steeper climb to come.

City officials have been arguing this week about recent budget cuts for the 2010 fiscal year for several local government-sponsored homeless care facilities and programs. While leaders from the Department of Human Services insist that only $12 million has been cut from services for the homeless, others from the homeless service sector believe the cuts to amount to as much as $20 million – about a 30 percent cut from last year’s budget of about $54 million.

DHS officials say that $11 million was cut from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal fund from which all accumulated funds have been depleted. The DHS also had its own budget cut by $24.5 million for this fiscal year.

Though it is unfortunate that the budget for homeless services has been cut for the 2010 fiscal year, with the D.C. deficit around $190 million as of this summer, some regrettable cutbacks must be made.

The D.C. government’s approach, however, was ill-timed and poorly organized. In a situation in which budget cuts are necessary, officials must clearly outline budget cuts to the departments that will be affected by the cuts. Moreover, this notification should be done in a timely manner; this would allow the given organization to begin its own decreases in spending.

In the case of the cuts to homelessness programs, D.C. officials took neither of these steps. Officials continue to disagree on the actual amount cut from homeless services. Also, homeless service representatives were only notified on Sept. 28 – three days before the start of the 2010 fiscal year – of the budget cuts.

This lack of communication, though inopportune for the homeless service sector, especially hurts the District’s homeless population. According to a study by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, there are over 6,200 homeless people in the city, nearly 1,500 of which are children. Many homeless shelter providers said shelters would have to be shut down due to these cuts, putting many people back on the streets. Perhaps remedial efforts could have been attempted if these cuts were proposed earlier to these shelters; the shelters could have made necessary budget cuts prior to the upcoming winter season to adjust to their newly limited resources.

During the hypothermia season, which lasts from Nov. 1 to March 31, the federal government mandates that D.C. provide emergency shelter and care for the homeless. Without much time to prepare, the homeless shelters may run out of money by the end of this dangerous period.

Through this time of economic insecurity, many undesirable steps have been taken. Though the slashes to homeless services may have been necessary cutbacks, the city government could have improved the outcome by speaking openly with service representatives in a timely manner.

This sad truth sticks: 1 percent of the District’s population will now be left with less aid than ever before. Through these missteps, D.C. administrators are leaving their constituents to fend for themselves.

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