Reginald Black

In the summer of 2013, the DC City Council weighed proposed changes to the city’s Homeless Services Reform Act (HSRA) that had many in the homeless community worried.

Of particular concern was Mayor Vincent Gray’s plan to create a “provisional placement” policy that advocates feared would keep homeless families in a kind of limbo while the city determined their eligibility for services.

There was also a plan to require shelter residents to pay into escrow savings accounts. What if a shelter resident was sick or out of work and unable to pony up? Would he lose his bed in the shelter? As with the “provisional placement” plan, there was a fear that the rule could lead to homeless people being denied crucial services due to circumstances beyond their control.

Advocates, including members of the grassroots group Shelter Housing and Respectful Change (SHARC) mobilized against these proposed amendments. Advocates spent a month visiting with officials and educating the public about the possible consequences of the amendments.

The council eventually dropped the “provisional placement” plan and amended the escrow proposal  to make it far more flexible and less punitive.

Another amendment to the HSRA survived intact. It created a new and very important city position, namely an executive director for the city’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The person named to the post would help the council with the important mission of furthering  collaborative efforts around reducing homelessness in Washington, DC. With about 6,000 homeless people in the District on any given day, and with roughly 70,000 names on the waiting list for affordable housing, the successful applicant would need to be dedicated and hard-working too.

Kirsten Greenwalt has been named to the job. Greenwalt has been working in the area for about fifteen years, and she has also worked with the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

She has impressed many advocates as a thoughtful person. She says she feels that there is not a one-bullet answer to the issue of homelessness.She has also challenged advocates to think creatively. It will be interesting to see how she tackles the challenges of ending homelessness in the nation’s capital.