Upcoming programs at DC Public Library East of the River will help District residents with criminal records search for a job. "Ban the Box," a DC law passed in 2014, says that certain employers are not allowed to inquire about criminal background on initial job application forms, and can ask about criminal convictions only after making a conditional offer of employment. A series of interactive workshops, facilitated by lawyers from Bread for the City and Neighborhood Legal Services Program, will teach residents about the new law and will walk participants through the process of filing a complaint if their rights are violated. The next workshop in the series takes place Wednesday, March 18, at 11:00 a.m. at the Anacostia Library on 1800 Good Hope Road SE. Additional Ban the Box workshops, along with more East of the River programming, is planned in the coming months as well.
February has already brought two innovations to DC education, with particular benefits for residents East of the River and in other disadvantaged local communities. First, the DC City Council has teamed up with DC Public Libraries for an exciting new program, called Books from Birth, which provides DC kids with a free book each month from birth until they turn five. The goal is to get children reading as early and often as possible in order to close the "achievement gap" that many disadvantaged children face when starting school. Parents or caregivers can register their children here; books are mailed monthly and the kids can keep the books (and read them as often as they want). Second, and in another effort to address the achievement gap—as well as the "summer learning loss" that many kids experience over summer vacation—DC will implement an extended school year for ten schools starting this fall. The Post reports that the ten elementary and middle schools, nine of which are in Wards 7 and 8, will have 20 extra days added to their school years. The goal is to replace a summer-break model with a year-round model. On extra added days, kids will have opportunities for extra learning both in core subjects and in "specials" such as arts, languages, and physical education. Mayor Bowser praised the initiative, pointing out that by the time the students reach eighth grade, they will have received an extra year's worth of instruction. DC officials hope that the added learning time will help level the playing field, giving children in disadvantaged neighborhoods more opportunities to learn and thrive.
Low-income residents, including many East of the River, spent Snowzilla hunkered down under blankets or huddled around small space heaters. The Post describes the plight of many poor D.C. residents during the recent blizzard. For instance, a woman in Washington Highlands had to leave her oven running, with the door open, because the heat in her apartment has been broken all winter. Lack of heat can result from several circumstances facing low-income residents. D.C.'s Office of People's Counsel reports that low-income residents are often afraid to complain about their heating problems because they are worried that other social services will be discontinued if the city learns of their poor housing conditions. As explained by a housing lawyer with the Legal Aid Society for the District of Columbia, many low-income residents don't complain to their landlords for fear of eviction. And some landlords just don't properly maintain their properties—as we have previously discussed. As a result, many of D.C.'s poorest residents who went without heat during this week's historic snowstorm will continue to face similar unsafe conditions throughout the winter, even after the snow has melted.
By Arooj Sami After eight-year-old Marie (name changed to protect her confidentiality) mentioned her fear of the cockroaches in her home, a doctor realized that there may be another way to help the young patient avoid more emergency room visits to treat her severe asthma. In the District, where 20 percent of children under age 18 have asthma, there are increasing efforts to go beyond clinical interventions and address the roots of this disease. Children’s Law Center, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to children and their families, has partnered with six health facilities around the District, including Unity Health Care’s Minnesota Avenue Clinic in Ward 7, to form Healthy Together. Lawyers from Healthy Together are on site at the partner facilities to train medical staff and answer questions about patients’ non-medical needs. The partnership reflects a holistic approach to children’s health. Although pediatricians advise parents on prescriptions or how to control allergens in the home, in many cases parents have little ability to manage their children's asthma. Some schools have poor air quality and may be unable or unwilling to take steps to reduce asthma triggers. In addition, low-income parents facing housing challenges often cannot prevent a child’s exposure to problematic mold in the home. More generally, management of asthma is affected to economic and social disparities, and low-income families face many barriers to effective management of chronic respiratory conditions. These families often experience instability in employment, housing, and family structure, and have fewer resources to fight for safe and sanitary housing conditions. Low-income working parents tend to lack paid leave or flexible work schedules, and are often unable to take children to doctor’s appointments scheduled during business hours. Areas in the District with the highest prevalence of asthma also have fewer primary care providers—for instance, children in Southeast DC visit the emergency room at a rate ten times greater than in Northwest DC. In light of these circumstances, health practitioners collaborating with Healthy Together attorneys are encouraged to ask about social and economic factors affecting patients’ health and make referrals to address those problems. Practitioners can also consult the Advocacy Code Card, which contains screening questions and resources for mental health services, housing, special education, and public benefits. This type of multi-pronged, collaborative approach is proving to be effective in tackling childhood asthma in the District. In addition to its partnership with Healthy Together, Children’s Law Center has worked with the DC Council to address mold in housing. Prior to 2014, the DC housing code did not cover mold; as long as there was no visible dampness, landlords were able to pass inspection by simply painting over mold. But thanks to the advocacy of Children’s Law Center, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and other groups, the City Council passed a new law requiring landlords to remediate mold once tenants report it. As for Marie: she was referred to Children’s Law Center by Impact DC, an asthma research and treatment unit at the Children’s National Health System, after an emergency room visit. Children's Law Center arranged for a housing inspection through the DC Department of Environment’s Partnership for Healthy Homes. The inspection showed signs of cockroaches, excrement, decomposing cockroach bodies, and mice in the HVAC system—all triggers for asthma. After legal action was threatened, the landlord agreed to move Marie and her family to sanitary housing. Marie's health improved drastically after her family moved into better housing conditions. She had fewer acute episodes and did not have to be rushed to the emergency room. When her asthma was poorly controlled, Marie was missing school, or she was tired and unable to concentrate in class. Her mother, who was losing sleep staying up nights to care for Marie when she was wheezing, found it difficult to maintain steady employment because her daughter’s health required urgent attention. The family has since regained a sense of calm and an improved quality of life—all thanks to help from Healthy Together.