The Post’s Aug. 19 front-page article “A fast track to housing” provided a glimpse into the triumphs and tribulations of several families. It also reported that, since 2009, as many as 40 percent of all rapidly rehoused families in Washington returned to shelters, while the housing status of the balance remains unknown.
In 2005, before the District began its program, New York City adopted the longest running rapid- rehousing initiative for families in the nation. In six years, this initiative was credited with moving 33,000 families out of shelters. Less well publicized was that the return-to-shelter rate skyrocketed to 56 percent, resulting in an unexpected $1 billion in expenditures over the life of the initiative. City and state funding supporting rapid rehousing was eliminated in 2011.
What drives such high return rates? Truth be told, homelessness is about poverty — poverty so severe that families lack the most basic skills to live independently. Ending homelessness will require more than a quick return to housing. Pragmatic public policy requires an investment in specialized education and employment services to prepare families to get a job and to help instill the economic motivation for advancement. Again, truth be told, there is nothing rapid about that.
Ralph da Costa Nunez, New York
The writer is president and chief executive of the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness.