For Fiscal Year 2022, DC has passed one of the most progressive budgets in history, with aggressive measures toward ending homelessness. This article looks at the impact on our clients, and what those budget numbers really mean for the people we serve.
Homelessness in our Nation’s Capital has long been an intractable problem. DC has one of the highest homeless populations per capita in the country. According to 2021 Point In Time Count, about 5,100 people are without stable homes, or around 1 in every 140 DC residents. Even that number is likely an undercount.
Significant investments by the Mayor and City Council in recent years have brought down the number of individuals experiencing homelessness, especially families. But as the table to the right shows, status quo funding will not end the problem in the city. We still see that 39% of newly homeless people will stay unhoused, and 45% of people experiencing long-term homelessness will remain homeless.
Affordable housing has become a rallying cry in a city where a person working a minimum wage job would have to work 78 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment. As a response, before the pandemic Mayor Bowser had set an ambitious goal of creating 12,000 affordable housing units by 2025 to meet the demand.
This makes sense – where can our residents exiting homelessness go if there’s nowhere they can afford to live?
However, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the existing housing crisis, especially for families and households without a support system or backup plan. In a year when people had to social distance and stay at home, folks without homes were left with few options. For individuals already on years-long waiting lists for housing vouchers and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) placements, there was little hope to access stable housing.
Something had to give.
In response to these worsening conditions and led by newly elected Council members, the 2022 DC Budget makes historic investments in affordable housing and ending homelessness. As written, it could end homelessness for over 2,300 individuals and 1,150 families next year, or almost half of DC’s documented homeless population.
No – but this is a huge step in the right direction.
If the budget is executed as written, almost 100% of documented homeless families will have access to housing, and 60% of all documented homeless individuals could exit the shelters within a year.
In the ICH’s strategic plan, they propose a vision with adequate investments and commitment to end homelessness in DC. The 2022 Budget effectively leapfrogs the plan in Scenario 2, funding the housing investments for two years in just one year.
For the first time, ending homelessness in DC is within reach. There will always be new households falling through the cracks, and some individuals who will resist entering housing for personal reasons. But this budget puts into reach a scenario in which District residents in crisis do not have to worry about falling into homelessness, and can have confidence that there are resources to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring.
See the table to the left. With appropriate investments, DC can reach a place in just a few years where no one has to remain homeless.
Budgets are moral documents – they reflect our community’s values and priorities. This budget reflects the District’s belief that all DC residents have the potential to thrive when offered care, dignity, and compassion.
It’s a great budget, but it’s not a perfect budget, as pointed out by our friends at DCFPI and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless: this budget does not remove barriers to healthcare for vulnerable communities or provide significant aid to workers excluded from federal COVID-19 support packages.
It is also important to recognize that housing is not the only solution our homeless community needs. Once people are connected to affordable housing, they will need ongoing supports to stay housed. These support programs, including case managers, sobriety counseling, job training and more, have a price tag but are critical to successfully housing chronically homeless individuals. Helping newly housed clients maintain a supportive community is also important to their success.
Without these investments, we will not only be addressing the needs of those who fall through the cracks but also individuals who fall back into homelessness. In order to fulfill the promises and goals of this budget, we must remember that this is a not one-time intervention, but continuing work towards our goal of ending homelessness in DC.