A Solution to the District’s Homeless Crisis

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By C.N. Staff Writer

Homeless Photo

In March Mayor Gray announced a new initiative aimed at alleviating homelessness during his 2014 State of the District address. The “500 Families 100 Days Quality DC Housing Now” campaign kicked off mid-April and the initiative is aimed at moving homeless families from the city’s shelter into permanent residences of their own. This is a part of the mayor’s Crisis Response plan and will also address the demand for housing for homeless families by increasing the stock of affordable housing rental units which landlords and developers must make available.

The initiative will partner with the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, the Transitional Housing Corporation and the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development. Mayor Gray has said, Although the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget my administration submitted to the Council plans for an additional $100 million investment in affordable housing to build on the historic $187 million commitment we made in the last two years, we are focused on moving our families out of shelter and into stable housing as quickly as possible.”

This past winter, the District received record low temperature numbers, which many referred to as the ‘polar vortex.’ Also, hitting record numbers was the city’s number of homeless families. The number tripled that of what was projected by homeless advocates.

According to the Washington City Paper, at one point, the 285 family shelter rooms at the former D.C. General Hospital were full, leaving D.C. to pay for 472 families to stay in motels in D.C. and Maryland.
By the end of June, the initiative hopes to put 500 families in homes through rapid re-housing, whereby the city subsidizes a family’s housing for a limited period of time, until the family can afford the rent on its own. However, a major setback with this is that the city won’t approve housing for families who won’t be able to cover the rent alone someday, thus the families moving into the re-housing program are few. Rapid re-housing is supposed to work whereby the city would subsidize the families’ rent for a limited period of time until they can afford to pay the rent on their own. Then the city steps away, and the families become self-sufficient. On the other hand, there are families who don’t qualify to get into rapid re-housing because some landlords wont take vouchers or finding suitable places for their families with the designated rent has been a challenge.

Department of Human Services Director, David Burns, has said that other obstacles arise because indefinite housing subsidies are unsustainable, and so rapid re-housing offers temporary ones, with a guarantee of just four months. After the four months expire, participants can be renewed for up to a year—though even then, Berns says, his agency doesn’t cut them off if they’re still unable to pay their own rent. Berns says his agency has plenty of funds to place more families into rapid re-housing but simply can’t find enough affordable units. There’s a need for about 100 units per month, he says, but DHS has only been able to place families into about 40.

Rapid re-housing was first implemented nationally in 2009, as part of the federal stimulus program, and D.C. started its own program when stimulus funding ran out in 2011. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development the federal program provides financial assistance and services to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless and help those who are experiencing homelessness to be quickly re-housed and stabilized. The funds under this program are intended to target individuals and families who would be homeless but for this assistance. The funds will provide for a variety of assistance, including: short-term or medium-term rental assistance and housing relocation and stabilization services, including such activities as mediation, credit counseling, security or utility deposits, utility payments, moving cost assistance, and case management.
According to the Community Partnership the District anticipated that 509 families would seek shelter during the entire hypothermia season, but by the end of January 700 had actually done so. Executive Director of the Community Partnership, Sue Marshall, called it an “unprecedented increase in the number of homeless families.” Berns has said that his department is encouraged by the initial results of the outreach efforts of the ‘500 Families. 100 Days.’ “In these first two weeks, 27 families were able to exit from shelter, and we have been in touch with many new landlords interested in more information.”

Additionally, according to DCist, 500 Families, 100 Days includes the One Congregation, One Family program, which is pushing for faith communities to each adopt one homeless family and try to find a place for them to stay. The campaign is expected to end July 10th. Landlords or developers with available, affordable apartments who are interested in more information about the campaign may write to housethehomeless@dc.gov

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