Photo of the outside of the new Transitional Residential Program apartments
Colleen Grablick

After its pilot month, a new transitional housing program has provided seven individuals with the support they need to get on their feet, giving them resources to help find permanent housing and secure employment for up to six months.

“The Transitional Residential Program was really born out of the need that many of our residents faced when they came to us,” said Courtney Snowden, the deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity. “They were seeking employment and training [and] found themselves either homeless or couch-surfing.”

In order to qualify for the Transitional Residential Program, which was launched by Mayor Muriel Bowser on Dec. 20, 2017, individuals must have completed one of the Department of Employment Services’ programs, be employed in full-time unsubsidized jobs or be earning a sustainable wage through a small business venture. DOES programs such as Career Connections, Project Empowerment, or Aspire to Entrepreneurship work with individuals to connect them with employment or entrepreneurial guidance, in order to help them eventually secure placement in fields they show interest in and that will create stable income.

While in the Transitional Residential Program, individuals continue to receive career coaching and counseling, as well as help with their resumes and job search.

Finding secure employment is a struggle facing many single individuals in the District, according to a study completed by Dr. Maurice Jackson, an associate professor of History and African-American Studies at Georgetown University. By 2020, 50 percent of all new jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree or above, and nearly 60 percent will require at least some form of education and training beyond high school. This creates barriers for many D.C. residents. The study states that 60,000 adult African American D.C. residents have not completed high school, and 50 percent have no formal education past high school.

Snowden said the mayor’s office saw a strong need to connect services across city government to ensure that residents can sustain themselves in an increasingly expensive city.

“It’s time we connect our workforce system to housing to make sure those residents who have a fragile housing situation and who have completed or are in the process of completing one of our high-quality workforce training programs have housing when they secure unsubsidized employment,” Snowden said.

The D.C. government has increased its focus on serving homeless veterans and families over the past year, but the Transitional Residential Program will only serve single individuals. Snowden said this program will provide additional support to single individuals who may often be left out of the homeless conversation.

“[The mayor] believes, as I believe, that in a city as prosperous as ours, no one should be homeless,” Snowden said. “So she really worked hard to make sure that we’re closing the gap on the hardest-hit populations, and that’s been families and veterans. But, of course, single individuals also experience homelessness and sometimes need additional support.”

Katherine Mereand-Sinha, the program manager of the Innovation and Equitable Development Office, leads the Aspire to Entrepreneurship program and said that single individuals often struggle to find housing as many programs focus on homeless families.

“It can be very difficult for an adult without children to find a housing program if they need it,” Mereand-Sinha said. “There are good reasons for the priorities that exist for making sure that families have housing, but when housing resources are tight and are strapped, it can mean that individuals don’t have anywhere to turn.”

Mereand-Sinha added that housing instability makes it difficult for individuals to excel in other areas of their lives, a reality with which the Transitional Housing Programs hopes to assist.

“I think everyone who faces housing instability has a challenge in being able to operate the other portions of their life while they’re facing that,” Mereand-Sinha said. “So when you start to look at questions about recidivism, individuals who are interested in changing a factor about their life need to be able to have a space in which they’re building that new life from.”

One of the seven people in the pilot program, PreAnn Walker, 24, struggled to find permanent employment after graduating from Spelman College in May 2017. Having completed one of the Department of Employment Services programs, Walker secured unsubsidized pay with a public charter school but still faced housing insecurity and lived with her older sister. After receiving an email from the Department of Employment Services asking her to fill out a survey, she was selected to participate in the Transitional Residential Program.

Walker said that the additional support provided by the program has allowed her to focus on finding permanent housing and alleviated much of the stress that comes with housing insecurity.

“Coming home from college, I didn’t think it would be this hard, you know, just finding jobs,” Walker said. “It really helps because it takes a lot of the stress or the depression that I had to go through off, by having this program and having the extra support with somebody to help me.”

Walker said she plans to attend medical school starting in June and to secure her own housing.

Another participant, LaShawn West, took advantage of the program after she completed a DOES employment program. West, who works at the Hyatt-Place Hotel, said she was contacted about the program while she was looking for housing through another program. The Transitional

Housing Program, she said, seemed like a better option because it would help her find permanent placement, and other programs were asking for too much money.

“All the places they were trying to send me is like a thousand dollars a month, I can’t afford that right now,” West said. “[The Transitional Residential Program] is trying to find me a reasonable place for me to stay.”

Director of the Department of Employment Services Odie Donald also helped launch the initiative and said the new program is unlike any that have come before. The program partners with Capital Area Asset Builders, and participants in the program must save money as a part of the program requirements. Capital Area Asset Builders then match whatever amount of money individuals save while in the program.

“Our program is a little different than anything else you’ll see around the country because we start with employment first. We connect soft skills and things of that nature through our programming, but then while folks are able to maintain living for six months, they’re also able to save,” Donald said.

Donald said that during the first month he has seen “baffling” success with the participants of the program.

“People aren’t just saving to focus on the match. I’ve noticed that our participants are really focused on making sure they take advantage of this opportunity and they’re doing increased savings on their own, past what’s required, so that’s extremely encouraging,” Donald said.

While the program guarantees six months of housing, Donald said that after the six-month period, the needs of the participants will be re-evaluated and exceptions may be made. Many of the participants in the program continue to use DOES services such as career coaches and resume-building.

Donald added that the residents, despite falling on hard times, show perseverance and promise.

“I’ve been really impressed with just the resiliency of D.C. residents even though they experience challenges like this,” Donald said.