This article is part of our 2019 contribution to the DC Homeless Crisis Reporting Project in collaboration with other local newsrooms. You can see all of our collective work published throughout the day at DCHomelessCrisis.press and join the public Facebook group to discuss how to act on this information and add context to areas we may have overlooked.
The five years of work encompassed by the “Homeward D.C.” strategic plan Mayor Bowser commissioned to make homelessness in the District “rare, brief and non-recurring” in the District are coming to a close. The D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness is now working to develop a second phase of the plan.
“I think the city is making tremendous progress,” said ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt in an interview with Street Sense Media, noting that D.C. has seen significant reductions in family homelessness and that the latest annual census of the local homeless community found the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness was the lowest it has been in 15 years. However, she said they still have a long way to go.
At last month’s ICH Strategic Planning Committee meeting, one working group advocated for a broader understanding of trauma among service providers. For example, care that is tailored to survivors of domestic violence may not cater to members of the LGBTQ community or re-entry populations who have experienced trauma in different forms.
Trauma is incredibly common among people experiencing homelessness. A 2010 study of 292 families found trauma to be one of two predictors of enduring housing instability after 30 months. Trauma-informed care necessitates not only an understanding of trauma among employees of social providers but an emphasis on choice and control for clients throughout the system.
Another working group discussed the need to expand the dialogue on racial equity, which was not explicitly considered in the initial Homeward D.C. plan. Along with training, education, and public awareness, the group called for policy-oriented initiatives to combat NIMBYism and laws that have adverse impacts on communities of color and low-income residents.
Greenwalt said that though the city has made “tremendous strides” toward improving its crisis response system, inflow — people newly experiencing homelessness— remains a sizable challenge. Especially under this presidential administration, she added, gaps in the social safety net at the national level are felt at the local level as well.
“There are so many people that continue to live on the edge and one shock to their household could result in a housing loss,” Greenwalt said.
The working group on inflow broadly advocated for increased capacity in prevention, diversion, and rapid resolution programs, as well as regional collaboration. But in a rapidly gentrifying city like D.C., a discussion about inflow is also a discussion about affordability.
The minimum wage recently increased to $14 per hour on July 1 and will increase again to $15 next year, but “the minimum wage is not a living wage for here in D.C.,” said Robert Warren, a member of a third working group at the meeting focused on “consumer engagement.” “If folks had universal housing rights … I think you would begin to raise people out of poverty.”
Warren thinks people should be able to qualify for housing just as they qualify for food stamps. His main focus, however, has been the health and wellness needs of people experiencing homelessness, which ties back in with trauma-informed care. The constant stress of housing insecurity takes a toll, and Warren still sees people in shelters that were there when he was homeless years ago.
“Some folks just break under the pressure of homelessness,” Warren said. “Sometimes when you see deterioration in folks, as far as their mental state, just their health, it’s kind of hard to witness a lot of times.”Though capacity limits how quickly the ICH can progress on these issues, Greenwalt said she has seen an increase in regional collaboration with neighboring counties. The Strategic Planning Committee meets again on Aug. 27 at 2:30 p.m., with the location still to be determined. The ICH meeting calendar is kept up to date at ich.dc.gov.