D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser released an ambitious and detailed plan Monday to end chronic homelessness in the nation’s capital within five years, setting concrete goals and timelines that no mayor before her has achieved.
The plan calls for replacing the city’s dilapidated family homeless shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital campus, leasing and building smaller shelters, and slashing the time that any family or individual spends in a shelter by swiftly moving thousands into apartments — often with long-term, taxpayer-funded subsidies.
The draft plan, obtained by The Washington Post, was circulated for review Monday among dozens of advocates for the homeless. Bowser (D) plans to ask a District task force on homeless services to vote on the document by the end of the month. After that, it would fall to the D.C. Council to approve the still-unknown cost, likely in the millions, of implementation.
A price tag for Bowser’s plan was not released Monday, but administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the plan was still being drafted, said the cost would be highest to taxpayers in the first two to three years.
That coincides with timelines contained in the report for closing as early as fall 2016 the city’s main family shelter at D.C. General, where an 8-year-old resident disappeared last year and is presumed dead.
Conditions at the 285-room former hospital are “simply unacceptable” for residents, the plan said, and “offer very little to help reduce the trauma of whatever life events have led them to shelter.”
A Washington Post investigation into the facility last year found repeated allegations of city contractors preying on female shelter residents and dozens of hospital visits for residents who suffered bites and infections from pests, dirty showers or other facilities.
Rather than maintaining one big, unruly shelter, Bowser’s draft calls for implementing a plan proposed last year by then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) to replace the facility with neighborhood shelters that house 20 to 45 families apiece.
The city has been soliciting offers by landlords to house such shelters since last fall but has received only four viable plans that would provide a total of 100 rooms. Bowser’s plan calls for leasing available buildings and immediately building new ones “to ensure we have a concrete plan and timeline to exit the current facility.”
The plan, however, does not set a firm date for closing D.C. General. A timeline in the 66-page blueprint leaves open a window of two additional years, saying it may take until fall 2018 to fully “transition” from the troubled facility.
“It’s not a hard-line date in the sand,” one Bowser administration official said. “We need to make sure we’re seeing all of the changes that we need to see in the system to be able to close it.”
Indeed, the Bowser plan rests on managing a massive overhaul of virtually all District homeless services. The city is housing more than 750 homeless families, but the mayor’s plan calls for having enough shelter space for only 215 families by 2020.
A key goal is to lower the average shelter stay for homeless residents from six months to two months — by moving them more quickly into transitional housing.
A greater share of those apartments — 1,425 instead of 765 — would come in the form of what is called “permanent supportive housing,” meaning District taxpayers would finance for the foreseeable future apartments for the most vulnerable and unemployable parents with children.
The city also would pay for short-term apartment housing for over 800 other families, likely for a year or more.
That’s just for families. The plan also calls for expanding by almost 1,000 the number of permanently funded apartments for the District’s most chronically homeless single adults, many of whom also suffer from debilitating mental illnesses.
The plan sets a goal of cutting the number of single adults staying in city shelters nightly from about 2,186 now to 963 by 2020.
Ed Lazere, head of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which advocates for low- and middle-income residents, said he was encouraged that the plan spelled out a goal for how to close D.C. General. He warned, however, that the city will have to do a better job than it ever has of finding transitional and low-cost apartments for the homeless.
Bowser’s plan was formulated in large part by her human services director, Laura Green Zeilinger, who led the Obama administration’s efforts to curb veteran homelessness, and Kristy Greenwalt, Bowser’s homeless czar who also worked on homeless issues nationally.
In the plan, Zeilinger and Greenwalt laid out a goal to end homelessness among veterans in the city by the end of this year and chronic homelessness by 2017 — which they defined, under federal guidelines, as “individuals and families that have a disabled head of household and have been living on the streets or in shelters continuously for a year or more or have had multiple episodes of homelessness.”
By 2020, the report said, families finding themselves homeless would be rehoused within an average of 60 days.