Poverty Initiative/Flickr

With a new administration in the Wilson building, the issue of homelessness in Washington, D.C. gets a fresh look. On March 18, 2015, the District of Columbia’s Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) unveiled the draft of a new 5-year plan to end homelessness in Washington D.C. To date, the Bowser administration has repeatedly said that this is an issue the mayor cares about greatly.

The plan calls for a complete overhaul of the homeless services system. It looks to convert D.C.’s largest shelters to smaller facilities dispersed throughout the District and indicates that the District of Columbia will have a new daytime service center to assist it’s most vulnerable residents.

This new service center will be an asset, but it must have the cooperation of the community. I particularly like the suggestion to to employ members of our homeless community to work in the daytime service center. There are many able-bodied homeless individuals that want to work. And they would empathize with guests’ needs.

The plan also puts focus on moving people through services faster, drastically reducing the average length of stay in shelters.

The District has a long way to go in an intense effort to provide better services for those who live in poverty. Although many that are close to the ICH’s work feel that the plan is good, others in the homeless community feel their voices are not being heard.

Earlier in the year, Mayor Bowser appointed Laura Zeilinger as the director of the Department of Human Services. With this fresh face comes many new ideas. Zeilinger is often optimistic about the city’s efforts and feels that homelessness is solvable.

“There are things that are working OK,” Zeilinger said at the March 18 presentation. “We are taking steps now. We know what work we have to do.”

Zeilinger said that she is eager to work so hard because the woes of the current state of the District’s homelessness resonate with her.

“We need to have a system that can respond regardless of the weather,” Zeilinger said referring to the extra emergency services the city provides through the winter hypothermia season only.

By March 31, 2015, the full council ICH will vote on the proposed 5-year plan. Overall, if Washington, D.C. can reach its benchmarks, it will have a better handle on homelessness. But we will have to wait and see.