Rosie, Sam and Victor Move from DowntownDC Streets to Housing

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

By Teya Vitu

Rosie, Sam and Victor lived for years on the streets of DowntownDC, sleeping on benches near Franklin Park, on grates near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library or elsewhere to pass the night before launching into another day of survival.

Through the efforts of the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) in partnership with Pathways to Housing DC, today, all three individuals are living in apartments and are rebuilding their lives with new health care, mental health services and the potential for employment.

“The BID is focused on working with our homeless brothers and sisters in DowntownDC to connect them with the services they need," said BID Executive Director Neil O. Albert. “Rosie, Sam and Victor are examples of how effective collaboration between the District government and the private sector could lead to better outcomes for the homeless."

Pathways utilizes a “housing first” model, which offers housing without preconditions, then works with clients to address mental health issues, medical challenges and/or addiction. Ninety percent of program participants remain in housing, compared to 45 percent in other programs with housing preconditions.

“People are unable to get well on the street,” said Pathways to Housing DC Executive Director Christy Respress. “They say, ‘I can’t even get to the doctor. I’m too busy trying to survive. Where do I put my medications?’ The housing is a service. It is health care.”

Instead of waiting for homeless individuals to seek out help, Pathways' Downtown Homeless Street Outreach Team, which is funded and supported by the BID, connects with individuals on the streets. Over the course of months, perhaps a year, the team builds relationships and trust. That’s how the journey began for Rosie, Sam and Victor.

Sam and his outreach worker visited several apartments until Sam found a home that pleased him. Pathways coordinated transportation and moving assistance for him and is now working with Sam to help him find employment.

Pathways connected Rosie with the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, which identified a special housing voucher for her due to her age and vulnerability.

A Pathways case worker is currently assisting Victor in his recovery effort from drugs and alcohol, which he used to combat feelings of inadequacy and depression, Pathways said. With his hope restored, Victor is currently working for The Way Home Campaign, which advocates for ending chronic homelessness in the District.

The BID has been contracting with Pathways since 2007 and the organization has since established a second partnership with the neighboring Golden Triangle BID in downtown. But, since the DowntownDC BID’s founding in 1997, the BID has been funding homeless outreach services. The efforts have paid off.

Between 2012 and 2015, more than 50 homeless individuals in Downtown found permanent, supportive housing through the BID-Pathways partnership.

[Read more about the successful effort to place 50 individuals in housing.]

Just since Oct. 1, Pathways has placed nine DowntownDC individuals in housing, including Rosie, Sam and Victor.

"The BID is proud to be working with the District government to help end chronic homelessness for so many individuals," Albert said. "But there is much work left to be done and we look forward to working with the city to help find a location for a Downtown services center, which will be open during the day to support homeless individuals."

Reducing chronic homelessness Downtown will continue to be a goal for the BID and the city to help individuals get off the streets and live their lives with safety, dignity and joy. The effort also supports Downtown’s stakeholders and its residents, workers and guests.

“It is the best thing for business as well,” Respress said. “The role of the BID is to make sure downtown is a safe and welcoming place for everybody. That includes individuals experiencing homelessness. The best investment is in housing. The BID sees the big picture. If you want to end homelessness, you have to be invested in the solution.”