On Thursday, January 8, one of the coldest days of 2015, the Washington Interfaith Network (“WIN”) with over 900 persons, packed St. Augustine Church in Washington, DC to speak to Mayor Muriel Bowser about their priorities and concerns for the city. Their agenda was simple: Work for residents at a living wage; Eliminating unsafe guns in the city; Affordable housing for all incomes; and Ending Homelessness.
Local residents told their stories to the mayor and packed crowd of how a decent pay wage and building job skills is at the heart of eradicating homelessness. And building affordable housing for all stages of life and all incomes is necessary. Gun control is not new to the District, having fought several court battles over gun ownership in the city. Rev. David Brawley spoke on behalf of the Metro Industrial Area Foundation and asked the City to join with 69 other jurisdictions to address unsafe guns at the manufacturing level and demand that guns be made safe, noting that cities are the major buyers of guns. Tony Fleet, a District resident and formerly incarcerated spoke proudly about his training, acquiring skills and becoming a member of Laborers Local 657. He works with the DC Water Clean Rivers Project.
The District of Columbia is fast becoming a city that is too expensive for many of its long standing residents to continue living here. Rents and housing are extremely high even for those who work full time jobs. The most moving moment of the evening was not in hearing from Mayor Bowser but hearing from a Metro Access Bus operator, Karen Reed, member ATU Local 689. Ms. Reed drives one of the Metro Access buses that provide transportation for physically and mentally impaired District residents. Her words resonated with all who heard them about the city’s lack of a living wage and affordable housing. Ms. Reed spoke about how she often works 6 days a week, 13-14 hours a day and yet only makes $26,000 a year. With one child, she constantly lives on the verge of homelessness and was homeless for three months in 2014. She never missed a day of working. Despite her hard work, she still qualifies for Food Stamps and Medicaid. And Ms. Reed made only one request—to pay her a living wage without having to provide her public benefits.
Residents housed at the DC General Family Shelter, formerly DC General Hospital, spoke anonymously via a video. Many were afraid for their faces to appear due to possible retaliation by employees working there. But they spoke of unsafe conditions, unhealthy conditions, rat infested conditions and lack of appropriate facilities for children.
Mayor Bowser spoke to the crowd and says she hears the voices of those persons who spoke on Thursday and those that they represent. She introduced key members of her new Administration-Lindsay Parker, Deputy Chief of Staff, Polly Donaldson, Director of Housing and Community Development, Jenny Reed, Deputy Budget Director and Brenda Donald, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. And these women will be the ones to work with the mayor on the budget, housing and homelessness. The question still remains what a Bowser administration will do to accomplish the goals and agenda set forth by WIN. And WIN will be actively monitoring the Mayor’s commitments.
WIN will not stop with their inaugural meeting with Mayor Bowser. On January 22, WIN will meet to evaluate the meeting with the Mayor. And without a doubt, there will be further meetings with Mayor Bowser to engage her on the issues that matters most to them—helping people with jobs that pay a living wage, affordable housing, ending homelessness and gun violence.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor who addresses issues on race and gender in the law.