Faced with growing concerns about homelessness, several advocacy groups have mobilized in the last year to eradicate homelessness in the District. The advocates are energized and have established the kinds of goals you need to end homelessness in a city: unreasonable but, somehow, achievable.
The bar was set very high last summer by one of the groups, Veterans NOW DC, advocates working to end veteran homelessness in DC by 2015. This group has managed to get a single and effective assessment tool adopted by all homeless service providers in the area.
It has also created a universal registry of all the veterans in need of housing and coordinated their entry into the system. The length of time between the veteran's entry into the system and the actual move into housing has been reduced from 111 to 54 days. This remarkable work is done by taking a hard look at practices and involving partners like the local Veterans Affairs staff and landlords who are willing to lend a hand to help veterans get housed.
In the first three months, 207 veterans were housed. With determination and hard work, they're striving to help 190 people in the current three-month cycle.
Another effort, The Way Home Campaign, which comprises advocates from the community and from homeless service organizations, launched its initiative in January. The group plans to make permanent housing a central issue in the mayoral campaign and has already secured some commitments on permanent housing creation from the DC Council.
One of the campaign's key arguments is that planning and prevention always prove to be more effective and less costly approaches to end homelessness in cities. They believe it is better to fund services at the front end and help people go through coherent steps to rebuild their lives than to wait for them to find themselves in dire situations on the streets. The use of emergency services is expensive and constitutes a bandage approach.
The campaign also stresses that permanent housing is a more humane solution for our vulnerable neighbors living on the streets of the District.
This dual approach bodes well for the Way Home Campaign and all the more right now; with the terrible cold we have experienced in the city this winter, there is renewed interest in helping people living in homelessness in our midst.
There are other solutions that ought to receive more funding as well, like rapid rehousing, homelessness prevention and job placement.
May this go from this keyboard to the ears of the decision makers!
A third group, focused on long-term planning at the systemic level, is Collective Impact. This group, funded by local philanthropic organizations, is taking an in-depth approach to reorganizing and reactivating parts of the homeless services network.
The ultimate goal is to make the system more effective and to ensure long-term compliance in the District with the Hearth Act of 2009. The act requires that certain conditions be present in local service networks in order for these systems to be eligible for federal funding. In order to do this, the group will have to help coordinate the completion of the homeless services redesign started in 2010.
These three advocacy groups are working together, building ties with community resources and working with the DC Department of Human Services, the DC Housing Authority and the US Department of Veterans Affairs, to name a few key partners. The groups also rely on landlords and neighbors using creative and innovative ways to secure resources.
An encouraging development in this process has been the relative strengthening of the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness, which is progressively taking a more active role in monitoring the system in accordance with its mandate in the Homeless Services Reform Act of 2005.
With the combined efforts of these groups, and others, ending homelessness in the District is now more possible than ever.
Jean-Michel Giraud is a member of Veterans NOW DC and Collective Impact. Friendship Place is a partner in The Way Home Campaign.