- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 40 churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in the nation’s capital are circulating petitions calling on Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser to sign a covenant to make homelessness and affordable housing a top priority.

The District’s main shelter for homeless families is at capacity, and a motel the city leased to serve as an overflow shelter is filling fast, The Washington Post reported Monday (http://wapo.st/1zaydLG ).

Organizers of charity efforts at houses of worship and other groups say they’re happy to help provide meals and beds for the homeless but they also warn that they’re being stretched thin and their resources are finite.

“We want the city to plan better and manage better,” said Ann Friedman, an organizer with Good Faith Communities Coalition, the interfaith group that is organizing the petition drive. “The city has the money, and we want to see this become a priority.”

Bowser, who will be sworn in Jan. 2, won office in part by distancing herself from Mayor Vincent Gray, who was seen as taking a hard stance in pushing the city’s homeless to get their lives in order. For instance, Bowser strongly criticized Gray’s decision to use city recreation centers and partitions provided by the Red Cross to create makeshift and temporary shelters and to bunch families together in gymnasiums and auditoriums.

Calling it no way to treat city residents, Bowser vowed to increase funding to support permanent housing.

But at a Friday gathering of church leaders and advocates for the homeless, some questioned whether Bowser and the D.C. Council - which last week approved a plan to spend at least $150 million on a new soccer stadium - are serious about addressing the city’s housing shortage.

“We’re still waiting - amen - for an administration in this city that will have the will to provide homes for all people,” said the Rev. Karen Brau, senior pastor at Luther Place Memorial Church on Thomas Circle.

On Saturday, Bowser announced the appointment of Polly Donaldson as her head of the Department of Housing and Community Development. For a decade, Donaldson has led Transitional Housing Corp., which focuses on finding transitional housing for families coming out of shelters and apartments for homeless singles with mental health or substance abuse issues. She has also served on the city’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.

“I’m coming from an agency that has a foot in both” housing and homeless issues, Donaldson said.

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Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com

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