Bowser Talks the Talk
Muriel Bowser has been quick to make homelessness a part of her administration’s conversation. During the holidays leading up to her inauguration, Mayor-elect Bowser visited Miriam’s Kitchen to make announcements of her cabinet that would take the helm in providing for the city’s poor.
“Many families face the reality of homelessness,” Bowser said. “I’ve set a goal of ending [it].”
Bowser fears we have retreated from a model that is proven to work: housing first. She aims to move back to it. Bowser announced Brenda Donald as the deputy mayor for Health and Human Services and Laura Zeilinger as the new director of Human Services, to aid in this effort.
Zeilinger, formerly of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, said that she was glad to see many familiar faces. Zeilinger believes we can and must do better to provide shelter when needed.
Bowser also appointed Rashad Young as city administrator, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt as Director of the Department of Health, and Clinton Lacey as Director of Youth Rehabilitation Services. When questioned by the press on the state of homelessness in The District, Bowser pointed out a need for services.
Louise Thundercloud, a homeless client of Miriam’s Kitchen, also highlighted the need for social services.
“You came and talked about crime, but where are the services? I mean, there is nothing,” Thundercloud put the question to Bowser.
Zeilinger’s overall message was that by working together we can tackle the city’s challenges comprehensively.
“My focus is not on creating more shelter, but more housing,” bowser said. Brenda Donald added. “The Mayor-elect has given us a charge to develop and implement a plan toward closing DC General family shelter within a year.
She pointed out that the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has been working with the incoming administration to build out anticipated shelter needs for this year.
“We’re marching down the road to closing down the long-term family shelter and replacing it with the housing supports we need,” Donald said.
A week later, having assumed her duties as mayor, Bowser met with the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church to discuss jobs, housing, and homelessness.
“We are facing a crossroads that will shape the next generation,” Rev. Jeff Krehbiel said.
Krehbiel asked whether Washington will be only for the single and affluent, or whether it will be a city for all people.
“We notice the lines at our feeding programs for the homeless getting longer every year. This is where we take our stand,” said Krehbiel.
Dee Curly, an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who are homeless, shared her unique story.
“I was in and out of jail. I was the face of the chronic homeless. We must identify the needs of the homeless, and make a commitment to mental health services. No one should have to live in the street and under bridges. It is a disgrace that the greatest nation in the world has allowed homelessness to become an epidemic. In a city where we can find money for streetcars and a soccer stadium, no one should be without a home. We need action, not rhetoric,” Curly said.
Bowser agreed that we’re at a crossroads of a growing city. She believes we are spending money on shelter that is not safe.
“It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and go back to policies that work,” Bowser told the crowd.
She claims that the city is facing a $240 million deficit, and placed emphasis on preserving the affordable units we already have. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, that number has fallen by half since the year 2000. Bowser announced plans to establish a strikeforce to deal with housing issues before low income tax credit laws expire in the next two years.
“Our priority is affordable housing, our priority is to transition people out of homelessness,” Bowser said.
The community seems to be waiting in anticipation of the administration’s next move.