Giving Bowser Credit Where It’s Due: D.C.’s Housing the Homeless Proposal

While I’ve ripped into D.C.‘s Mayor Muriel Bowser several times–deservedly so–she deserves kudos for her plan to end homelessness in D.C. An overview (boldface mine):

The mayor said she will ask the D.C. Council to change a city law that requires homeless families to prove that they have nowhere else to go before they can get shelter. Instead, Bowser wants to offer families up to 12 days of housing while officials check whether they qualify for long-term help.

Bowser said she will also seek council approval of a plan to provide efficiencies, rather than apartments, for at least 250 homeless families — a cost-saving measure she said was key to fulfilling her campaign promise to close the city’s dilapidated family homeless shelter at the site of the shuttered D.C. General Hospital campus….

Bowser’s predecessor, Vincent C. Gray (D), tried to restrict access to family homeless shelters in the belief that doing so would spur families to find better housing on their own. As a mayoral candidate, Bowser pledged to abandon that approach. She has vowed to end chronic homelessness in the District by 2020.

From the introduction of the report–it has some bargley bidnessspeak, but despite that, lots of good things (pdf):

Strategy 1: Develop a more effective crisis response system.
We need to transform our system into an effective crisis response system,
where people experiencing homelessness feel safe and are supported to
quickly get back on their feet. Key areas of focus within this strategy
include transitioning to smaller, community-based shelters (including closing DC General by 2017), increasing the number of specialized shelter beds (e.g., medical respite), creating a day-time service center for single adults, developing and implementing a plan for year-round access to shelter, and redesigning the Rapid Re-Housing program.

Strategy 2: Increase the supply of affordable and supportive housing.
In the long run, increasing the supply of affordable housing is the single largest homelessness prevention measure we can take as a community. In the meantime, dedicated housing resources must be available within the homeless
services system to help individuals and families quickly exit shelter and return to permanent housing. Key action items include:
•Aligning annual investments made via the Housing Production Trust Fund to help meet permanent housing inventory needs specified in the plan

•Determining how Medicaid resources can be used to pay for more of the services needed to help people with behavioral health issues stay in housing (which will allow us to redirect some of our local investments to additional housing), and

• Examining whether some of our transitional housing stock can be converted to permanent housing.

Strategy 3: Remove barriers to affordable and supportive housing.
We need to improve access to housing for vulnerable individuals and families by ensuring we fund Permanent Supportive Housing programs that use a Housing First model. Some programs within our system have so many eligibility requirements that we are unable to place into permanent housing the very individuals and families that the programs were funded to serve. In the months and years ahead, we will need help from both providers and private market landlords to examine their requirements and identify where they can be more flexible to ensure vulnerable District residents have access to housing.

Strategy 4: Increase the economic security of households in our system.
In order to increase the success of households in the system and reduce the likelihood of a return to homelessness, we must provided targeted employment assistance, particularly to households receiving time- limited interventions like Rapid Re-Housing.

Strategy 5: Increase prevention efforts to stabilize households before housing loss occurs.
In the months ahead, we will need to increase our efforts to stabilize high-risk households before they arrive at the shelter door by implementing targeted homelessness prevention programming that incorporates the use of predictive analytics. We will also examine what more can be done to stabilize individuals and families as they transition out of other systems – including adult and juvenile justice systems, child welfare and foster care systems, and behavioral health systems.

If Bowser can pull this off, that would be a major accomplishment. The plan seems pretty reasonable, and importantly, achievable.

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