Mayor Bowser, with Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, hosted a regional summit on homelessness March 17. Their goal was to determine how best to manage the growing number of metropolitan residents who have lost their homes.

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The summit goal was to determine how best to manage the growing number of metropolitan residents who have lost their homes. (Courtesy Photo)

The Regional Summit on Homelessness, held in Montgomery County, was organized by leaders of the three jurisdictions as a call to action to funders, developers, banks, employers, landlords, service providers, schools, institutes of higher learning, and community members to join in the work to end homelessness.

“We all know that we are going to have to be proactive to solve this issue. Our response cannot be limited to sheltering people today. If we are ever going to get ahead of this issue, we must go further to address the root causes of housing instability,” Bowser said. “Every one of us standing in this room plays a critical role. And for that reason, we are eager to be kicking off this long overdue regional collaboration between the District, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County – and all of you.”

For Bowser, the collaboration follows efforts to end family homelessness by 2025 as outlined previously with the launch of several initiatives to expand affordable housing opportunities. One provision allows for the allocation of funds for a variety of programs to help families exit homelessness through financial assistance. A more recent plan, announced by Bowser, opts for the closing of the family homeless shelter currently housed on the campus of D.C. General Hospital.

“As part of my Administration’s effort to end homelessness, we are launching an initiative to help give families who experience homelessness a fresh start. We will bring on professionals to increase the District’s capacity to quickly connect families experiencing homelessness to housing opportunities in the private market,” said Bowser.

Mayor Bowser’s initiative would reduce the length of time that families experience homelessness, alleviate the need for overflow shelter capacity at motels; and improve the District’s capacity to meet the needs of families who are experiencing homelessness. Some residents are hopeful, but leery of how all of the pieces will fit together under Bowser’s initiatives.

“In a city where developers and landlords are demanding upwards of $3,000 a month for suitable housing, Bowser and the City Council would do well to address homelessness and their core constituents being pushed out by exorbitant rents,” said Natalie Hinton, a Northwest career counselor. “When hard-working, educated people need housing subsidies, it cuts into the monies that those in dire straits really need in order to survive. Right now it is a ‘lose-lose’ situation, but I voted for Bowser, and believe she can get this right.”

Leggett said that homelessness remains an uphill battle that will not allow for resting upon ones laurels. Citing an extensive commitment of resources for shelters, an overall decrease in homelessness over several years, and initiatives to preserve affordable housing in Montgomery County, he said homelessness, nonetheless, showed an uptick this past year.

“Clearly, even with using best practices, there is no easy answer. That’s why we need to develop and implement a plan for transformation of our local efforts to include our partners in the region. That’s why it is so important that Montgomery, Prince George’s and the District are coming together to commit ourselves to regional coordination and collaboration to reduce and end homelessness in our respective jurisdictions.”

Baker said that an all-inclusive approach using the collective energies of the three jurisdictions was necessary to combat a crisis of homelessness. “Partnering and consolidating our resources will allow all of us to help more people who are on the cusp of homelessness. We want to take a holistic approach to help people avoid this tragedy by providing wrap around services, as well as shelter and stability focused programs,” Baker said.

A lack of affordable housing, a skilled workforce with jobs that pay a livable wage, and sustainable support networks have been largely attributed to the monumental escalation of family homelessness. The District is the nation’s most expensive place to live, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. According to the report, District residents spend an average of $28,416 annually on housing – more than denizens in even New York and San Francisco.