By K. Levek
It’s a Tuesday morning at 7am on South Capitol street SW and there’s a long line outside of the District Department of Human Services Congress Heights service center. The line consists of mostly women, but there are a few men. The people standing in line are District residents waiting to get inside this service center that is the Income Maintenance Administration that serves people attempting to get vouchers for child care and also people attempting to get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (or TANF) benefits.
Marquietta Williams is a NE resident who is the first person in line. “I’ve been here since 5am,” she said. Marquietta’s mother drove her to this location, which is the only location District residents can come and get childcare vouchers. While her mother waited in her car sleep with her son, she stood in line for nearly two and half hours before the doors open at 7:30am.
Marquietta is just one of thousands of residents who travel from across the city to get a childcare voucher, as the SW location is the only human service center that services the vouchers. If you live in NW or NE then the trek to get to the SW location can be far and residents standing in the line say if you want to get seen in the same day then you have to get up early.
Regina Jones got up at 4:15am to travel to by bus to get in line. She traveled with her child, in a stroller, who slept most of the way. She has been through this process before and hates that she has to come so far to get the much-needed voucher. “I really wish they would open up more locations because this is ridiculous that we have to get up so early to stand in line for so long to get seen,” she said. She got in line at 5:20am.
Around 7:15 a woman who works inside the center approached the door, barely looking at the residents standing in the long line. Stopped and questioned about the long line, she said she was unable to officially give a quote or her name because of policy reasons and clearance from the director of the program. However, she did say that the line is long Monday through Wednesday when she arrives to work. The line is long because Monday through Wednesday are the walk-in days. Residents who don’t have appointments are seen on a first come first serve basis and “the line is sometimes wrapped down past the Murray’s store there,” she said. We asked her why the department had not opened any other sites and her response- “I don’t know, I have no control over the policy or facilities.”
Residents in line complained that although they get up early to come and stand in line and wait inside to be seen, often they are not seen because there is a cap. “Mileny Salinas, a resident in line, said they only take the first 50 walk-ins or however many people come in before 8:30am. We asked the unnamed worker who was walking in about people having to wait an excessive period of time and not being seen. She said, “That is not true! I don’t know where people get that rumor. There is no quota. Our walk-ins are based upon staffing for the day. If we are unable to see many people it is because we are short window attendants.” What she declined to answer was the average of workers who report to work to see walk-ins on Monday through Friday.
Marquietta said she’s referred this long waiting process to her case manager. “I have to miss a day of work to come stand in line. The last time I was here I arrived at 10am and waited until 3pm and I was not seen.” She said she believes there should be a social service center in every quadrant of the city and it would be more helpful if there were one in every ward. “We stand in this long line and we can’t bring any food or drink inside no matter how long we have to wait. It’s just a crazy situation,” she said.
Many families have to come multiple times a year to renew their vouchers if there is a need to update their forms. Thus, the process on trying to get an appointment means getting up early to stand in line for the hopes of being seen. If you forget one of the critical documents to bring, like photo id, and residency requirements then you are sent home and have to try the process again the next walk-in day.
The Capital News was able to speak exclusively with an employee who wished to remain anonymous, for sake of losing their job, about the situation at the center. The employee said the center does not have the best practices. “We often give out bad information and the few of us who try to do what is right get criticized by our superiors. It makes it hard to be in the business of helping those in need.”
The employee said that the situation won’t improve until the agency is able to open up more offices. Until then parents will continue to wait in long lines outside, regardless of the weather conditions, unless the agency opens another satellite location.