The BID Addresses Homelessness

Sunday, June 24, 2012

By DowntownDC

A broad dialogue about homelessness in America —including whether progress is being made to end it, what has changed over the past 10 years, and the role that intermediary service organizations and businesses can play—dominated the agenda at the DowntownDC BID’s first Homeless Summit, held on June 20 at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (733 10th Street).

More than 70 property and facility managers, city officials, leading service providers, and representatives from non-profit organizations attended the hour-long program. They learned about the BID’s Homeless Services program—including the Downtown Homeless Services Team, the city’s only non-governmental, clinically based outreach group dealing with chronic homelessness, which operates out of Pathways to Housing DC—and heard a panel made up of local and national experts discuss homelessness.

Overall, “this was an opportunity to showcase the successes of the BID’s 15-year-old Homeless Services program and inform a range of stakeholders and partners about our work going forward and how they can participate,” said Steven Jumper, the director of corporate public policy for WGL Holdings, and chairman of the DowntownDC BID Board of Directors. “The reality,” he said, “is that much still remains to be done on behalf of Downtown’s homeless community.”

The panel consisted of Anthony Love, deputy director for national programs with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness; Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness; Fred Swan, the family services administrator for the D.C. Department of Human Services; and Linda Kaufmann, the eastern U.S. field organizer for Community Solution’s 100,000 Homes Campaign. Richard H. Bradley, executive director of the DowntownDC BID, moderated the panel, which agreed that progress has been made, but there’s no room for complacency going forward.

Efforts to assist the homeless population are “not going to get a whole lot easier,” said Nan Roman. “We have to target better. Be more efficient. And push hard.” She expressed concern about the future, even as homelessness has decreased 17% nationwide since 2005 (chronic homelessness dropped 33%), because federal funding is declining and the hoopla around the federal deficit has yet to play out.

“Housing used to be the carrot at the end of the stick,” according to Fred Swan. But he and the other panelists agreed that measures taken over the past decade to end homelessness have changed the dynamics. Progress has been made because 1) locally, the DC government redesigned the system to create permanent supportive housing solutions instead of focusing solely on shelters; 2) nationally, the federal government engaged more and incorporated best practices into its plans; 3) resources were used in a smarter way; 4) intervention was enhanced; and 5) strategic partnerships became more prevalent.

The major change, noted Linda Kaufmann, was “when we realized that the cure to homelessness was housing.” Thus, the popularity of the Housing First model, which moves the most hard-to-serve homeless population into stable housing and connects them to supportive services that can help them remain housed. (Many homeless individuals suffer from mental illness or substance abuse or both.) Today, more information focuses on who’s on the street and where they are located. A Vulnerability Index identifies and prioritizes the street homeless population to help them quality for housing.

Despite the Housing First push, the panelists agreed that shelters, commonly demonized, still play an important role but “more for crisis response,” said Anthony Love. “They were never intended for long-terms stays.” DC, according to Swan, is looking to create smaller shelters and examining the services that existing shelters provide.

Going forward, there’s a role for intermediary service providers, such as churches, and nontraditional players, such as businesses. A church, for example, can raise money to house a single adult or simply provide human intervention by connecting with people and making them feel like members of the broader community. A business can offer resources to assist with everything from security deposits to furniture.

In addition to better assessing needs and maximizing resources, the panel members said it’s important not to lose momentum gained once local Administrations change, and a concerted effort must be made to keep people at the margins from becoming homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) provides homelessness prevention assistance to households that would otherwise become homeless, and provides rapid re-housing assistance to some homeless persons.

The Summit was organized as part of the DowntownDC BID’s ongoing communications program with BID-based property and facility managers. During the meeting, the BID announced that it is launching a Property Manager Portal, which can be used by property and facility managers to access new How2 Guides to assist with a range of topics—including homeless issues—and receive up-to-date information on topics of relevance to them. An updated DowntownDC Outreach Services Information Card, which connects homeless individuals to the services that they need, was also distributed and is available to organizations requesting them.

The BID also formally thanked Chet Grey and Jonathan Ward for their many years of dedicated service to the Homeless Services program.  Grey, the BID’s former director of Homeless Services, recently retired. Ward, formerly Pathways to Housing DC’s clinical director and head of the joint DowntownDC BID-Pathways to Housing Downtown Homeless Services Team, was promoted to a new position within the city government. Each was presented with letters of appreciation from Mayor Vincent Gray for their efforts on behalf of the city’s homeless population. Will Connelly, Pathways’ new director of Outreach and head of the joint Team, was also formally introduced and welcomed.

Interested in partnering with the BID as it looks to expand its network of service providers, advocates, policy makers and government officials who work on behalf of the homeless community? If so, or you’re interested in finding additional ways to support or help Downtown’s homeless population, contact Rick Reinhard, the BID's deputy executive director, or David Kamperin, the BID's director of Public Space Management, at 202-638-3232.

A video of formerly homeless adults now living in permanent supportive housing because of efforts by the DowntownDC BID and Pathways to Housing DC can be seen on YouTube.