On March 17, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser joined regional executives Ike Leggett from Montgomery County, Maryland, and Rushern L. Baker III from Prince George’s County, Maryland, at a Regional Summit on Homelessness. The leaders decided to collaborate on affordable housing, workforce development, economic development and supportive services to end homelessness in the Metropolitan area.
“We need a comprehensive, regional approach to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring” Bowser tweeted on the day of the meeting.
During the Regional Summit, the three leaders signed a charter outlining the four issues they deem most important. A task force created that day will include representatives from each county, according to Betty Hager-Francis, deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services, and education for Prince George’s County.
The task force is new and it has not been established who will fill the positions, when the group will meet, or whether the meetings will be open to the public, Hager-Francis told Street Sense.
“It’s a real roll up your sleeves job,” she said. “All three jurisdictions will have their top officials who are working on this issue together.”
The Bowser administration released a plan on March 16 outlining the goals and timelines Bowser hopes to reach to end chronic homelessness in 5 years.
Last month Bowser also announced she will appoint four “housing navigators” to help unhoused District residents navigate the real estate market and obtain stable housing.
“On the local levels, we are making a commitment to prioritize affordable housing & econ opps for our residents,” Bowser tweeted from the summit. “Affordable housing is just one side of the equation. Job training and education is equally important.”
Prince George’s County has a 10-year plan to end homelessness as well, which started in 2012, according to Hager-Francis.
Baker, County Executive of Prince George’s County, also wants to focus on making affordable housing more accessible for county residents.
“He hopes that all of us as a region will deal with the issue in a way that provides affordable housing for all those who are unstably housed…” Hger-Francis said. “We realized being in a global housing situation determines a lot of other factors in where a person’s life is going.”
The homeless population dropped five percent in Prince George’s County last year; however; it is unclear whether this trend will continue.
“It’s hard to understand the future of homelessness if you don’t know the future of the economy,” Hager-Francis said.
Montgomery County’s homeless population also dropped about 12 percent last year, but county leaders expect an uptick from 2014-2015, said Patrick Lacefield, director of the Montgomery County Office of Public Information.
Lacefield could not point to one specific cause of the expected rise in homelessness, but hypothesized that it is connected to housing affordability in the county.
“It’s a problem of success in a sense because a lot of people want to live here; therefore, rental and home prices are higher, but the downside is that people can’t afford them,” he said.
Executive Director of the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless (MCCH), Susie Sinclair-Smith, could not confirm there will be a rise in the homeless population this year because the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count data, which is the source of the information, will not be released until May. However, she noted that this year, the number of families in emergency shelters doubled.
She agreed that if the PIT Count shows an increase, the main cause would be the lack of affordable housing in the area, which is why Montgomery County has focused a lot of energy on creating affordable places for its residents to live.
The county created or preserved 15,000 units of affordable housing in the last 8 years, and is currently moving forward on a plan to create 100,000 new jobs to respond to unemployment in the area.
The new jobs will be focused in high-tech and biotechnology and are not likely to have direct impact on the poorest segment of the population. Lacefield pointed out that those jobs will create other opportunities for employment, including food service and transportation jobs.
“People will open restaurants to service increased employment, transportation modes will be expanding to serve those distances [for new jobs], they serve a whole range,” he said.
Montgomery County will also be revamping facilities in the area, including Progress Place, which is located in the building where the Regional Summit was held. The building will be upgraded and services will be expanded. Progress Place currently provides a soup kitchen and some medical care. It functions as an overflow shelter in the winter.
“We’re going to be making it larger and better, and include more services, including health care,” Lacefield said.