Over the past week, many of The Way Home Campaign’s Steering Committee members and organizational partners testified before the DC Council at performance oversight hearings for the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) and the Department of Human Services (DHS), and the DC Housing Authority - agencies that play a critical role in the design and implementation of DC’s homeless services system.
Many used this opportunity to discuss persistent obstacles that stand in the way of DC’s ability to make historic progress towards ending chronic homelessness, including a harmful focus on encampment evictions and the slow implementation of funding for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH).
Only 18% of locally funded vouchers used
Due to the collective advocacy of The Way Home Campaign and our partners, DC funded a historic 2,424 units of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for individuals with local dollars over the past 2 fiscal years.
PSH effectively ends chronic homelessness by combining rental assistance with wrap around case management. Combined with federal resources, DC now has nearly 3,000 vouchers for the proven solution to homelessness: housing. For the first time ever, DC has the resources needed to connect a large percentage of our neighbors who have been homeless for years with the housing and supports that meet their needs.
Alarmingly, however, just 30% of these combined resources have been used and DC has used just 18% of locally funded vouchers. Over 2,000 people continue to experience chronic homelessness despite both a voucher and services being funded for them. Between December and January, DC used just 24 locally funded vouchers. At that rate, it will take DC nearly 7 years to use the remaining vouchers.
This is a matter of life and death
At the People for Fairness Coalition’s Vigil in December 2022 we mourned the lives of over 72 people who died without a dignity of a home in DC, the capital of one of the richest nations in the world. Over 60% of people who we mourned at the vigil were matched to housing vouchers. Getting this right is a matter of life and death. We are increasingly troubled that little progress has been made to speed up implementation and that a lack of urgency permeates those responsible for fixing these systems' issues.
Despite historic funding, progress to end homelessness remains stalled
DC’s homelessness crisis could look markedly different than it does now. More than 2,000 of our neighbors living outside and in shelters could have their own apartment. The money is there, but we are missing the political will and creativity needed to implement this life-changing funding. While 2,000 vouchers will not end chronic homelessness for everybody, it will make a huge dent. These vouchers will reduce encampments, empty crowded shelters, and ensure those still experiencing homelessness receive more intensive and personalized case management. Implementing these vouchers is a win for all DC residents.
DC must enact common sense reforms to clear the voucher backlog
We knew that implementing the largest number of vouchers ever funded would be challenging. However, the DC government has had since July 2021 to bring our homeless services system to scale, to speed up implementation, to increase staffing, and to identify new resources or structures needed to make all that happen. Unfortunately, the significant systems realignment needed to move people into housing quickly has not materialized. As we enter budget season, Mayor Bowser must leverage her budget to ensure the homeless services system has both new PSH vouchers and the ability to implement existing vouchers. Some key recommendations include:
- Increasing relevant staffing at DHS, and giving the agency direct hiring power, which they currently lack;
- Ensuring PSH providers have the staffing needed to implement vouchers, including pay increases and expanded singing bonus when needed;
- Relaxing strict licensing requirements;
- Significantly decreasing voucher processing delays both at DHS and DCHA; and
- Halting encampment evictions, which take up needed systems resources and make ending homelessness harder.
We thank the 11 Councilmembers who co-authored a letter calling on DC to publish an emergency plan to clear the voucher backlog. However, this request is both far too late and should never have been necessary.
Our neighbors experiencing homelessness are tired of hearing that, despite having thousands of vouchers at our disposal, they will have to continue to live outside for months or years. They are understandably frustrated and they are losing hope. Who can blame them?