Action Center
Implementation delays and systems gaps stall promise of historic investments to end homelessness
June 30, 2022 by Jesse Rabinowitz, Miriam's Kitchen

Implementation delays and systems gaps stall promise of historic investments to end homelessness

DC currently has the resources to end chronic homelessness for over 2,300 individuals this fiscal year. Concerningly, however, we’re 75% of the way through this Fiscal Year, and, to date, only 157 individuals (or 5%) have moved into Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) this Fiscal Year. In addition, 912 individuals have been matched to a housing voucher, meaning that they will, but have not yet, move into a PSH unit. Additionally, Similar gaps and delays impact vouchers for families. While we knew this large influx of resources would not be implemented overnight, we are concerned that so few people have fully exited homelessness 9 months into the fiscal year.

While some challenges were expected, pace of implementation is concerningly slow

While it was never realistic for DC to use all 2,300 vouchers on the first day of Fiscal Year (October 1st, 2021) and some delays were anticipated due to the unprecedented number of vouchers, the current pace of implementation is so slow that at this rate, it would take DC over 10 years to use all of these vouchers. That pace is far too slow and does not reflect the urgency needed to end chronic homelessness.

We knew that implementing this historic funding - the most ever in one year- would be challenging. And for that reason, The Way Home Campaign has urged both the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) to adopt common-sense solutions to speed up the voucher process and address long-standing systems barriers. While some progress has been made, specifically progress at DHS to streamline hiring processes, additional systems changes are needed.

Significant systems changes needed to accelerate housing process and implementation of new resources

As of April, 665, or nearly 50% of the 1,402 individual vouchers currently in the process of using a voucher are stalled due to needlessly slow processes at both DCHA and DHS:

  • DCHA still falls far behind its own goal to process vouchers within 20 days, with the process often taking months. This means that clients are forced to experience homelessness for even longer than they already have. DCHA must take steps to improve their internal procedures and there must also be an institutional change within the agency that recognizes that their delays have lasting and negative ramifications for neighbors working to exit homelessness.
  • We are excited to hear that, after many months of dialogue and advocacy both to the DC Council and the DC Housing Authority, DCHA is now allowing clients to self-certify their identity during the voucher lease-up process. People experiencing homelessness often have a difficulty producing identifying documents, which, before this change, were needed to use a voucher. This was among the largest reasons for voucher delays. We look forward to DCHA issuing guidance on how this important change will be implemented.

Progress made towards staffing, but additional provider capacity needed

Understandably, the quadrupling of PSH resources and the goal of moving 2,300 individuals from homelessness to housing requires a substantial increase in personnel – both at relevant government agencies and at provider agencies, who need more staff to take on more clients. Hiring and onboarding takes time, and the labor market is currently such that some agencies are struggling to fill vacant positions. As a result, staffing (or the lack thereof) has repeatedly been cited as is the biggest hurdle to getting money out the door and keys in the hands of our neighbors. While some providers have been able to staff up quickly, others are still struggling. DHS has made some improvements to facilitate increased hiring, including reducing degree requirements for certain positions, but more must be done. We anticipate DHS to release new hiring incentives and workarounds for the barriers caused by amenity fees in the near future.

It’s worth noting that when MPD was faced with staffing shortages, they were given the ability to award $20,000 signing bonuses along with rental support and tuition support to recruit officers in recognition of the current job market. Yet, social workers and human services employees, who are mostly women and often women of color, are given little if any additional incentives. This much change. DHS must continue to work proactively to both reduce barriers and increase compensation for these vital roles.

Continued lack of regularly published public data

Both DHS and DCHA have yet to release regular, public data focused on voucher implementation. We continue to call for this data to be released monthly so that the public, the DC Council, PSH providers, advocates, and people experiencing homelessness can better understand what is and isn’t working to improve the voucher process. Additionally, we call on the Committee on Human Services to hold a joint hearing of the Department of Human Services and the DC Housing Authority about voucher implementation when the Council reconvenes fall.

Focus on evicting homeless encampments makes ending homelessness harder

As we have stated before, DC’s continued focus of displacing and evicting homeless encampments residents does nothing to end homelessness and, in fact, makes ending homelessness harder. Encampment evictions displace clients, use valuable resources that could be better spent ending homelessness, and ruin trust between clients, service providers and the government. Instead of focusing on invisibling and criminalizing homelessness, DC, and the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services specifically, must work to address the chronic delays and barriers preventing people from utilizing their voucher and exiting homelessness.

Click here to read our implementation recommendations, which were issued in February 2022 for the DC Housing Authority and the DC Department of Human Services.

DC must act with urgency

Simply put, it’s still too hard for our unhoused residents to use the vouchers they need to move out of homelessness and into housing. Surviving for years without housing is hard enough. It’s beyond time for DC to remove barriers, in the form of documentation, processes, and bureaucracy, that so often keep people from having a safe place to call home.

Let us be clear, this caution should in no way be used to suggest that housing, specifically Permanent Supportive Housing, does not end homelessness. It does and together, DC has already ended homelessness for thousands of individuals. To ensure that over 2,800 more of our neighbors receive the housing they need, DC must dramatically accelerate its pace to reflect the urgency needed to end homelessness.

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