Mayor Offers Plan to End Homelessness
Numbers Underestimated, Some Say; Others Question Funding for Initiative
By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2004; Page B01
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced a plan yesterday to provide stable housing for all homeless people in the city within 10 years.
The plan, in draft form, outlines an ambitious strategy that -- without specifying how it would be paid for -- relies on creating 6,000 highly subsidized housing units and strengthening the social safety net for the very poor.
The "Homeless No More" initiative, which the city will discuss at five public meetings planned for the next two weeks, is part of a national effort endorsed last year by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Forty-six states, and 117 other cities, have put forth similar plans.
"Ending homelessness would not require ending poverty in its entirety," the District report states. "The end of homelessness could be achieved through a careful re-tooling and better use of our . . . systems that help people in need."
The proposals include replacing the 7,241 beds now available to homeless people in the city at emergency and long-term shelters with 9,710 new beds.
About two-thirds of those would be in apartments whose residents would get extensive support services to keep them from becoming homeless again.
The other third, about 3,500 beds, would be divided among emergency shelters, where new arrivals would be evaluated for rapid placement, and transitional facilities, where residents would receive treatment, counseling and other assistance while awaiting a permanent place to live.
Williams (D) called the initiative a "very, very serious" attempt to deal with the chronic problem of homelessness, which, according to city estimates, affects more than 8,000 people in the District on any given day. "A critically important part of it is housing, but it's not limited to housing," Williams said.
Advocates for the poor, though, say the number of homeless people in the District is much higher than aides to Williams suggest and that it is growing as housing prices continue to skyrocket.
They also say thousands of individuals and families are staying with friends or family members or are living in substandard conditions, and are at constant risk of ending up on the street.
Toni Duvall, a mother of four children ages 11 to 15, lost her apartment after losing her job in the hospitality industry in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She stayed with her mother, then at a city-run shelter, and now lives at Community of Hope in Columbia Heights while taking classes to become a medical office specialist.
Duvall said there are no apartments that she can afford with her $413 monthly welfare checks. "You're at the end of a rope with no place to go," Duvall said. "You're just hanging yourself."
Those who work with the homeless lauded the initiative's recommendation for a senior-level task force to oversee city agencies that work to keep people off the streets. They praised the city for declaring that homelessness could be solved through more affordable housing and more supportive services.
They questioned, however, where resources to support the plan would come from. The initiative notes that proposed cuts in next year's federal housing budget would drastically reduce subsidies, for example. But the plan relies on those subsidies.
"There is no new money attached to this proposal," said Sczerina Perot, an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. "Mostly, the prevention efforts seem to rely on existing programs that are already stretched beyond capacity."
Williams announced the initiative at his weekly news conference and was joined by the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Philip Mangano. Mangano praised the proposal and promised federal help. "Washington and other cities are moving beyond bailing out the leaking boat of homelessness," he said.
D.C. officials said the initiative would be posted on the Internet for public viewing at www.community-partnership.org and would also be available at the offices of six nonprofit organizations across the city that deal with homelessness. The draft report will be discussed at five public meetings this month, starting Monday night. Callers can get more information on the initiative at 202-727-8001, officials said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Number of Homeless Up Slightly for 4th Year (The Washington Post, Jun 10, 2004)
Homelessness in Region Jumps Again (The Washington Post, May 15, 2003)
Homelessness On Rise in Area, Survey Finds (The Washington Post, May 24, 2002)
Area Counts 12,850 Homeless in a Day (The Washington Post, Apr 12, 2001)