Abandon bags outside metro
Mark Thayer

A new five year plan to end homelessness in Washington prepared by the District’s Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) developed was discussed at a meeting led by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on May 27.

Kristy Greenwalt, Director of the ICH, stated that this year’s budget contained $18.7 million for new investments and that the city still has a gap in its efforts to house single adults. “We do want to be thoughtful of how we scale,” Greenwalt said. “We have underinvested in singles for so long and we have so many people in our systems – we want to make sure investments are used wisely.”

Laruby May, the new Ward 8 council member, asked Greenwalt about the Department of General Services budget and about the 801 East men’s facility that is on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital.

“It’s an economic displacement issue,” Greenwalt said. “We need to be able to meet the needs of people in crisis.”

Someone is defined as “chronically homeless” when they experience long-term or repeated homelessness, often coupled with a disability. There are more than 1600 individuals  in the District who meet that criterion, according to Greenwalt.

“We will always need shelter at some point in our communities,” Greenwalt said.

The plan puts emphasis on preventative measures, and aims to make a person’s experience with homelessness brief.

Greenwalt worried however that there are only 3774 units as of 2014.

Mendelson briefly described a recent tour he had taken to a development in the Lincoln Heights area. He suggested that many vacant buildings could be rehabbed to house those who are homeless.

Mendelson also raised questions about employment.

“This is a Housing First plan,” Greenwalt said. “We [still] have to look at the employment piece.”

Miriam’s Kitchen Advocacy Director Kurt Runge spoke in support of the new plan, saying that the solution to homelessness is housing.  According to Runge, the District is at a turning point in its ability to meet the community’s growing demand for homeless services; he said that ending chronic homelessness is possible.

A 55 year-old District resident, Waldon Adams, shared his story of changing his life through Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)l.  “I was housed and assigned case management quickly. PSH is what gave me a chance to regain life,” he said. “PSH is a work in progress and the best plan to end homelessness in the District of Columbia.”

John Histle, executive director of Faith-Based Communities, said that organization has signed a covenant to support public efforts to end homelessness. “Our greatest hope is continued support and the implementation of Homeward DC,” he said. “If we invest wisely we can make a difference. We feel that everyone deserves a home –  it is a human right.”

Robert Warren, executive director of People for Fairness Coalition, said that for a long time, targeted affordable housing (TAH) or local rent supplement program (lrsp) has been needed to address problems faced by long time residents of Washington, D.C. Warren said that for any plan to work, both renters and property owners must be part of the process.  He asked that the city council acknowledge the need for both affected groups to be part of the solution.

“My sense is everybody thinks the plan is a good document, but the problem is implementation,” Mendelson said.  “To me, it’s pretty clear that rapid rehousing is off the table.  We went the extra mile and it was not spent…I’m not interested in putting money into strategies that are not used.”

Vince Keane, CEO of Unity Healthcare, which provides healthcare services to poor, underserved and homeless individuals in the District, said that Unity favors efforts to replace deteriorated shelters, and that without housing and support, many homeless residents don’t have adequate options upon discharge.

Anne Cardile described her experience being discharged to a shelter after an extensive hospital stay.  She said there is no place where a homeless woman who is sick can rest.