A photo of the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.
Richard Ricciardi/Flickr

On April 12 the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) held its first meeting of the year, also the first since switching to a quarterly schedule. This body of government, nonprofit and private individuals meets throughout the year to navigate ending homelessness in the city. They are tasked with implementing the 5-year Homeward D.C. plan to end homelessness in the District.

The meeting was held in the John A. Wilson building and many from inside and outside of government spoke.

During a public comment session at the start of the meeting, Anthony Davis called for more attention to homeless veterans. Davis, a member of The People for Fairness Coalition and the founder of Vets Helping Vets, questioned why any veteran could be allowed to experience homelessness. Soldiers who die in combat give their lives for those that return home, said Davis, criticizing what conditions many veterans return to. “It would break your heart,” he said.

It was reported later in the meeting that several unforeseen challenges have slowed progress housing veterans. The city had hoped to effectively end veteran homelessness by the close of 2015. However, more veterans than originally projected have been seeking shelter and fewer veterans than originally projected have been able to resolve homelessness on their own. Additional Department of Human Services (DHS) outreach staff have been assigned to this effort.

Long-time community advocate Eric Sheptock also commented during the opening session. “I think you are moving in the right direction. I hope this body has learned that there needs to be a focus on homeless employment.”

Sheptock is anxious to see how the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is implemented later this year and how it will help able-bodied people experiencing homelessness get to work.

DHS reported progress in sheltering and stabilizing families facing homelessness, as well as in developing a day center and expanding outreach efforts.

The most interesting portion of the meeting–which ran out of time to cover its full agenda–was the affordable housing update lead by Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Director Polly Donaldson

“We can’t talk about homelessness without affordable housing,” Donaldson said. She reported that 12 affordable housing and permanent supportive housing projects were in the works, after a 2015 RFP selection process.

“Right now the threshold for a household to qualify for assistance is $35,000 a year in income, which is calculated to be 30 percent and below of the area’s median income [AMI]. Eighty

percent of the [housing production trust fund] dollars need to go to [families that make] $65,000 or less,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson also mentioned that there were no targeted affordable housing vouchers available this year. “Any project selected in January this year will not be online until 2018,” she said. Donaldson reported that 83 units of permanent supportive housing will be coming online during this fiscal season, which equates to about 10 percent of the total amount. She stressed that placement for units will be pulled from the coordinated entry system.

“We have limited resources,” Donaldson said. DHCD has partnered with the D.C. Housing Authority, Department of Human Services and the D.C. Housing Finance Agency.

Consumer Donald Brooks reported struggles with landlords not accepting housing vouchers. Housing Authority Executive Director Adrianne reaffirmed that voucher recipients should be able to approach any landlord and get an apartment if the price is right.

“It took me four months to find an apartment with a voucher,” said consumer Michael Coleman. “This [Area Median Income] thing is really hurting people. It’s keeping people in one section of the city.” he said.

Coleman suggested developers be held accountable for reigning in costs. Alternatively, Todman said the value of vouchers had been increased in an attempt to account for rising costs and the possible concentration of poverty.

ICH Executive Director Kristy Greenwalt, who also currently leads the Family Services Administration, asked everyone to maintain realistic expectations for the 5-year plan’s implementation. “We are really into the first six months of implementation.”

City Administrator Rashad Young added that this year’s proposed budget for human services was the slowest year-to-year increase seen in some time, compared with last year’s unprecedented amount of funding committed to housing and homeless services.

Laura Zeilinger, director of DHS, pointed out that while small, there was still an increase compared to the previous year. “We know the need is great.” We need to be realistic about what we can do,” she said. “We have to work together.”

The event could be summed up by Michael Coleman, who said that the abundance of targeted service programs and the entry requirements that accompany them leave many consumers feeling like there is no program they are eligible for. “You gotta realize that we have problems, we [the ICH] come at them with all these stipulations, then [consumers] won’t want to engage.”

This is the second year of the Bowser administration’s crack at housing instability. Those in need hope the city will put its money where its mouth is.