THE BLOG

Five Women May Change Homeless Services in DC Forever

02/06/2015 05:02 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

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Photo credit: Rod Hill, www.rodhillportraits.com

(left to right) Dallas Williams, Kristy Greenwalt, Laura Zeilinger, Jean-Michel Giraud, Brenda Donald, Jermaine Hampton, Brooke Lyle and Michele Williams at La Casa Permanent Supportive Housing Program managed by Friendship Place.

DC rang in the New Year with some cheering news from then Mayor Elect Bowser's team.

In fact, there are clear signs from the Mayor's Office that change is on the way for DC residents living in homelessness among us.

Indeed, key decisions and appointments show that the new Mayor intends to do something about homelessness and is about to oversee the implementation of solutions which will allow the District to rein in homelessness during her first term.

The news started with the announcement of Laura Zeilinger's appointment to head the Department of Human Services. DC advocates are very familiar with her work to build the permanent supportive housing initiative under Mayor Fenty as Deputy Director of DHS.

DHS worked with the Mayor's Office and nonprofit partners in a swift and intentional way to house well over a thousand households in record time starting in August 2008. The initiative was a visionary endeavor which gave immediate access to housing to vulnerable District residents, using the Housing First Model.

Additionally, Zeilinger brings back the extensive experience she has gained at the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, where she worked with national-level advocates, local services providers and federal agencies like HUD, DOL, and VA, to advance the homeless agenda as USICH's Executive Director.

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Photo credit: Rod Hill

Other choices bode well for the District as well and also point to the fact that being a "doer" weighed heavily on the Mayor's decisions.

Brenda Donald has been appointed to the post of Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. She brings to the position a wealth of experience in District government, as head of the DC Child and Family Services Agency.

And, Deborah Carroll, a long-time staffer and twice Acting Director of DHS, is now the Director of DOES, the Department of Employment Services. Carroll has vowed to help DC's disconnected residents mainstream as she revamps DOES to fast track their paths to employment.

It's easy to see how the two departments, DHS and DOES, will now move things forward to end homelessness in DC by creating adequate housing and employment opportunities for thousands of Washingtonians who have been struggling financially.

Another encouraging sign is the retention and overt support of Kristy Greenwalt, the Executive Director of DC's Interagency Council on Homelessness. Her leadership on the council has led to a complete reorganization of this body which dates back to the Homelessness Services Reform Act of 2005.

The revitalized council is examining every layer in the homeless service delivery. It wants to foster the creation of new cost-effective, needs-based solutions at the system's level, working with some nonprofits to take smaller models to scale.

As of this month, Greenwalt has a new office in the Wilson Building and is being backed by two staffers, one of whom is funded by philanthropists.

Empowering your homelessness czar or czarina, in this case, is an approach that has produced excellent results in cities like New York, Houston and New Orleans.

Together, these five women will likely change homeless services in DC forever.