District officials recently joined forces to celebrate the success of the city’s initiatives against chronic homelessness – an issue which has had a profound impact in the nation’s capital since the de-institution several years ago of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
According to Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, St. Elizabeth’s played a vital role providing for homeless individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues that made them largely non-functional as members of society.
He said, however, that much of the city’s success in combating chronic homelessness is due to the efforts of the Housing First program, which offers permanent accommodations.
“Housing First has had a huge impact since St. Elizabeth’s because afterward, the city never brought in other programs as substitutes,” Wells said. Otherwise, “The District had generally done a bad job housing homeless individuals that were not that functional” on their own.
Wells cited people who have taken to living under bridges, in shelters at night and on streets downtown as examples. He said the First program has effectively housed many who previously struggled under such circumstances.
The District-based National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness (NPACH) describes the city’s chronic homelessness initiative as a campaign to target federal, state and local homeless assistance and other resources for people who find themselves repeated victims of homelessness.
According to NPACH, individuals who meet the criteria most often have a disabling condition and have either been continuously homeless for a year or more –or have had at least four episodes of homelessness over the past few years.
In its ongoing and ambitious effort to eradicate chronic homelessness, the District will continue to provide funding and the federal government has also stepped to the plate.
“But the federal funding is only for upfront costs. The city takes care of items like paying rents and will be responsible as far as carrying the rest of the burden,” Wells said.
Laura Zeilinger, deputy director of the D.C. Human Services department, said that in addition to First Housing, the city utilizes several different programs for permanent support of the homeless.
She said the projects provide intense case management services that are combined with housing subsidies and that First Housing is probably the most successful of all the city’s homeless programs.
“Most of our permanent support housing is in apartments across the city,” Zeilinger said, “and case managers follow up with [participants] who are also connected with community organizations that help them with issues such as life skills and coordinating medical services.”
Zeilinger added that the District is also currently engaged in the 100,000-Home campaign, a nationwide effort in the fight against homelessness.
“It’s a campaign to provide intervention to end homelessness . . . and D.C. is a leader in this effort,” said Zeilinger.