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On June 14 the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) held its second meeting of the year. The council is currently working on its action items for the Homeward DC five year plan to end homelessness. This meeting spotlighted a long-ignored piece of the equation: employment. “We know what a challenge it is for folk,” said ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt. “Our goal is to provide a pipeline of trained and qualified applicants.”

Greenwalt reported that, in the past, 33 percent of individuals and 74 percent of families entered the homeless services system with zero income and left the system still with zero income. Of the 1200 families that utilized the homeless services, only 10 percent of them were employed when they exited it. “There are a lot of unique challenges for people,” Greenwalt said. “Our clients spend too much time traveling [between service providers] to meet basic needs.”

The ICH has begun working closely with the Department of Employment Services and its new Workforce Investment Council (WIC) to implement the Workforce Innovation Opportunities Act.

“We’re the body that ensures that is charged with ensuring District residents are provided with all the needed resources for workforce development,” said WIC Executive Director Odie Donald II, who also said that WIC had submitted a letter seeking to collaborate with the D.C. Housing Authority.  “On March 31 we submitted the District’s plan for workforce development in the homeless community. There are some areas that need improvement. I don’t think we have been a strong partner to the homeless community.”

A veterans advocate and consumer member of the ICH, Donald Brooks, challenged the WIC director on several points related to employment issues.

“I’ve been to some of the service centers,” Brooks said. “I gotta take off my belt and shoes. You single people out if they have a lot of bags and those types of things make those that could access service not even want to go to the service center.”

These feeling were summed up by John McDermott, People for Fairness Coalition co-founder and treasurer. “We’re gentrifying the city too much, McDermott said. “We’re building all over the city for the rich and famous and not doing nothing for the poor. Treat them like human beings and not third class citizens.  We gotta make a better system for everybody.”