We can't paint the solutions for homelessness with one magic brush stroke. Homelessness is the result of a broken system that sets up our community's most vulnerable individuals and families for continued failure. The issues that surround homelessness are complex - as are the solutions.
Of course, the most immediate answer is to find everyone without a home a place to live. This would answer the most immediate and obvious need; however, the reasons people fall victim to homelessness are not addressed in the "give them a place to live solution."
Until we can develop a system that effectively addresses the underlying causes of homelessness, we are simply putting a band-aid on a much larger issue and sweeping the remnants of a broken system under the rug.
Housing individuals and families without a place to live is a step in the right direction, but it falls far short of the full answer to eradicating homelessness. An effective long-term plan to end homelessness will incorporate strong preventative measures that support self-sufficiency as well as programs that respond rapidly to people in crisis. Visit www.thrivedc.org to learn more about our efforts to end homelessness in DC.
Last week Mayor Bowser's administration asked a judge to lift their obligation to house homeless families in private rooms. Homeless advocates were surprised, since there had been no warning that such a measure was needed. It's a testament to how great our challenge is to solving homelessness in DC, where there are more families and individuals without a place to stay than ever before.
Below, our Executive Director Alicia Horton responds to the current homelessness crisis.
Challenges abound! The problem of individual and familial homelessness is a complex problem that is compounded by ever increasing numbers and an on-going urgency that literally impacts one's ability to survive.
On its face the answers seem simple: get everyone housed in a decent, affordable, and supported environment. But making that seemingly simple solution a reality is more than a notion. The new administration is learning what advocates and those working at the ground level have known for some time, that there are no quick and easy solutions.
Close shelters and the question arises, where will those families go? Stop providing hotel space, where will new homeless families go? The weather is life threatening, where will we put people who need to come out of the elements? Where are the resources to provide housing for all? Can low - income individuals and families afford and sustain homes in our Nation's Capital? How will we provide support to vulnerable individuals and families once housed? These are but a few of the complex questions that impact the growing numbers of homeless people in our region.
The solutions are systemic and will never be found in the fast, turn around responses fueled by crisis and campaigns. The answers lie in long term societal changes like living wages, affordable mixed communities, supported services, housing developments, viable employment opportunities, effective mental health systems and supports, affordable and accessible healthcare, meaningful rehabilitation and reentry services, and these are just to start!
Until we begin to turn the wheels of real systemic change we will forever run behind the fast, inefficient solutions that keep us in this perpetual cycle of crisis. Our community deserves real change, the homeless we serve deserve permanent solutions. Let's start the work of really ending homelessness with long range and innovative systemic strategies built to last.
Alicia Horton has been Executive Director of Thrive DC for six years, and before that was Director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence for 13 years. She has her JD from Catholic University and her MPH degree from Tulane. Alicia is a passionate advocate for DC’s homeless community and has been nominated for a seat on the Interagency Council on Homelessness. If you would like to support her nomination, you can fill out a ICH nomination for Alicia Horton and email it to the ICH Executive Committee (Darrell.firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than February 20, 2015.