On Thursday, May 25th, Alicia Horton is presenting testimony to the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs in support of raising the minimum wage to $15/hr, as they hear testimony on B21-712, the "Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016."
Thrive DC supports creating sustainable pathways out of homelessness. Raising the minimum wage is a necessary, but not sufficient, part of the solution. But raising the minimum wage is a great first step, and we look forward to greater opportunities for our clients as a result of DC City Council taking action.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee,
Without a sustainable minimum wage our clients do not have a realistic path out of homelessness. They will never be able to achieve their goals of housing stability, food security and self sufficiency.
My name is Alicia Horton, and I am the Executive Director of Thrive DC. I have been the Executive Director for eight years, and Thrive DC has been serving our city’s low income and homeless community for the past 37 years, ever since we were the Dinner Program for Homeless Women at First Congregational Church. We moved to Columbia Heights 7 years ago and now provide wraparound services to people who are homeless and those on the edge of homelessness.
\We provide over 137,000 meals a year, see more than 250 people a day, and are just one of six places where our clients outside of a shelter can get both free showers and free laundry.
We have job assistance AND job training, and a new program called WIND that supports women leaving incarceration with comprehensive support, transportation…and a stipend.
Even with all those services, our clients continue to struggle.
Because when you are trying to escape what can become an endless loop of homelessness, you start with nothing except expenses and challenges.
Our clients have all the expenses you and I do: transportation, clothing, medical co-pays, food, etc, in addition to the costs associated with being homeless, like the price of a cup of coffee to use a restaurant’s bathroom, the cost of replacing a bag with all your belongings that was stolen at the shelter, or the cost of buying a pair of shoes at Salvation Army because yours are worn out.
When we meet someone ready to turn their life around, we are there to help them every step of the way. We help them search for jobs and get substance abuse counseling. We work with them one-on-one on foundational skills. We make available employment readiness support as well as a 6 month job training program where 90% of our graduates have found sustainable careers.
Once our client has a job, we can connect them with a work shelter that gives them temporary housing for up to six months. In a work shelter, half of their earned income the shelter puts in escrow, saving it for when their time is up at the shelter and they can use the money for housing.
Securing a part-time job is usually the first concrete step out of homelessness for our clients, and at $10.50/hr (this summer’s wage increase) it is not enough to cover expenses AND save enough money for housing. Many of our clients are limited in their employment opportunities. Many have big gaps in their employment history, are held back by a criminal record, and lack the skills to skills to immediately secure a full-time position.
So an individual makes 10.50/week for 20 hours/week or $840/month. But with taxes they only take home $673 and $336 is immediately put away as savings. That leaves $336 to live on for an individual and quite possibly a family.
How would you live on $336 a month?
The expenses I mentioned earlier don’t go away when our clients start working, but sometimes increase. We’re talking about $336/month to buy food, pay a phone bill, take the bus to work and back, buy clothes, medicine…and the list goes on. But that’s the best case scenario. Few of our clients are able to work a full 20 hours/week, and hours get cut or they don’t work at all.
Also remember that our clients can only work between 6 AM and 5 PM in order to have any chance of claiming a bed at a shelter, which significantly limits their opportunities and eliminates their ability to be flexible or accept additional hours without risking their bed for the night.
Conversely, if our client could work 20/week at $15/hr, their take home pay at the end of the month would be $895. With half going into savings for housing, that’s $447 to live on for a month, or $111 more in our client’s pocket.
Our clients can do a lot with an extra $111 a month.
That money means a few more meals, an extra trip to the Laundromat, a necessary prescription…it means a few more critical expenses to make it through the month. This small but important increase could help provide the resources necessary to actually help someone claw their way out of homelessness.
Our clients deserve a better minimum wage so that they have a fighting chance at building stability by earning a wage that can actually support someone in this city, in this economy. Without an increase our clients will continue on an unending treadmill where self sufficiency, independence, and security will continue to be fleeting and unobtainable dreams.
We cannot continue to blame, point fingers and judge the poor. We must create viable pathways out of poverty, accessible strategies for achieving financial health and wellbeing. Raising the minimum wage isn’t a panacea. But it does provide greater opportunity, a fighting chance.
Every one of the people we serve deserves this chance!
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask that you reaffirm your commitment to ending homelessness by raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, and providing a financially sustainable path for our clients out of homelessness.
Life in the city, booming with business and opportunities, is becoming a luxury unavailable to our blue collar community. For too many in the District, mere survival has become an all-consuming struggle. At Thrive DC, we see families and individuals from Ward 1 and beyond who work hard to simply make rent, and use our services as a last ditch effort to keep from falling off the edge of survival and into poverty and homelessness.
Unfortunately many do fall, and we are here to provide assistance.
Families who have lived in the nation’s capital for generations are no longer able to afford the high cost of living that has come to earmark the District of Columbia. Half the apartments that rent for $800 or less have disappeared since 2002; among DC’s lowest income residents, 64% spend half or more of their income on housing.
I am talking about the working poor. I am talking about those who labor in low wage jobs, the same jobs that keep this city running, but who can never make ends meet. Those who are committed to working hard and supporting themselves but depend on service agencies to survive.
It should not take free groceries from Thrive DC to put food on your family’s table each week.
The minimum wage in DC is now $10.50/hour, or an annual salary of $21, 840 (before taxes). Our new minimum wage, the highest in the country, still does not even cover the cost of rent – much less anything else. With the average one bedroom apartment costing $1,741/month, DC residents can expect to pay $20,892/year just to have a place to sleep at night.
I believe that the average citizen of DC overwhelmingly supports a living wage. The clients who come to Thrive DC don’t want charity; they want good jobs in their own city. The question is: how do we get there?
The answer is simple: more affordable housing throughout the city and a wage that promotes opportunity, not dependence. This combination creates mixed-income communities that thrive because everyone is able to afford the cost of living. The alternative is a DC immersed in the kind of economic disparity that breeds polarization and dangerous animosity.
We are the fourth most expensive rental market behind New York, San Francisco, and Boston. If DC refuses to address the inequity created when people cannot afford to live where they work, we rob the city of its history, its diversity, and risk becoming a dangerous monolith that only supports a select few. This is not the kind of community to which this city’s smart, progressive, and remarkable residents aspire.
I challenge the District of Columbia, the Nation’s Capital, to lead by example and create a diverse city that values and supports all residents. I support working toward a living wage of $15, and the chance for our poorest neighbors to find stability and security.
-Alicia Horton, Executive Director of Thrive DC