Program to House Homeless Families Will Near, But Not Quite Hit, Its Goal
In March, Mayor Vince Gray announced a bold initiative to address the city's mounting homelessness crisis: The District would vastly speed up its process of moving families out of shelter and into apartments by locating 500 apartments for the city's homeless families within 100 days.
The 100th day is this Friday. And according to Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services B.B. Otero, the city will come very close to meeting its goal, if not quite reaching it.
The city and homeless families have located 532 units since the initiative began, Otero told reporters in her office at the Wilson Building this afternoon, but 73 did not meet the city's requirements. That leaves 459 eligible units, or about 92 percent of the target. "I've been out of school for a while, but I believe that's close to an A," she said.
But the city hasn't moved nearly that many families from shelter into housing. As of July 3, 187 families had been moved into housing since the start of the program. Otero is confident that number will hit 200 by the time the 100 days run out on Friday.
There's some confusion about exactly what the initiative's goal was. Otero insists it was simply to locate the housing units, and the initial announcement of the program said the same. But Gray seemed to have a different understanding. In a May 23 letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Gray wrote, "Our goal is to help 500 families exit shelter by July 11," but noted that "we are currently on a trajectory which would fall well short of meeting our goal to exit 500 families by July 11."
There are still 486 families being sheltered by the city as of July 3: 244 at the D.C. General shelter, and 242 at the motels used as overflow while D.C. General's been at capacity. Otero says that if the city continues housing those families at the current pace, by the time winter begins and the city is again obligated to house families in need—a legal requirement when temperatures drop below freezing—the motels will be empty and there will be about 30 rooms available at D.C. General. Of course, if the number of families seeking shelter this winter is anything like the number last winter, 30 rooms won't be nearly enough to hold them all.
But Otero hopes that the extensive landlord outreach through the 100-day initiative will provide momentum that will allow the city to house increasing numbers of families. Deborah Carroll, recently appointed interim director of the Department of Human Services following the departure of David Berns, added, "The goal is to be leaner, meaner, and get families in more quickly."
If the city wants to avoid the glut of homeless families that overwhelmed the shelter city last winter, it'll have to.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery