Believe it or not, the above photo is not staged. It was someone’s G Street “cardboard condo” for about three weeks last year downtown. Walking home last night, this writer saw a “blue plastic palace” in this same location (we bet the condo fees are low!). Having temporary structures like this pop up and stay around for days at a time on a city street clearly indicates a homeless problem. Fortunately, Mayor Fenty isn’t letting the matter fester (he has it on his 100 Days and Beyond checklist) and on April 2 of this year he announced new supportive housing policy initiatives, next steps in addressing this societal problem downtowners contend with daily. We don’t want to parrot the press release as it describes a fair amount of detail and includes a link to the March 2008, 20-plus page Draft Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Unit Generation Report [PDF] describing current progress and future planned progress towards generating 6000 affordable housing units. Of those 6000 units, 2500 are dedicated to housing the most vulnerable, those who are homeless (2000 for individuals and 500 for families).
The good news for downtowners is that these initiatives will allow the city to close the Franklin Scool Shelter by October 1, 2008. Additionally, this spurred on the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) and Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association (MVSNA) to host a special meeting this evening with key heads of DC’s homeless social services organizations as speakers. The rest of the story? You’ll have to read past the break…
From downtown parking jockeys to panhandling scams to how to respond to requests for money from streetpeople, we’ve reported on the impact the homeless have on downtown living here at PQ Living and there’s no question that a cogent plan to address reintegrating the homeless into mainstream society is welcome relief. Mayor Fenty’s press release says the plan will provide a “permanent supportive housing initiative administered by DHS to house more than 400 homeless people in six months and consolidate existing emergency shelter facilities.” The press release cites the following as actions the initiative allows the city to take:
Close Franklin School Shelter by October 1, 2008.
Bring Gales School Shelter (at least 125 beds) on line to provide emergency shelter for men. This facility will be owned and operated by Central Union Mission without a District subsidy.
Acquire Georgia Ave Property for mixed income housing development including 50 units of permanent supportive housing.
Move Harriet Tubman Shelter from the cafeteria at the former DC General Hospital to Building 9 with:
- Case management and supportive services on site to include housing placement specialist
- Transition from 12 hour to 24 hour shelter with 3 meals a day provided
After looking at the Draft Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Unit Generation Report, we see lots of good detail on creating housing units, associated social services, broad year-by-year targets, the associated costs and financing requirements (it won’t be cheap, by the way – $459M in expenditures from 2008 to 2016). 2500 of the 6000 affordable housing units are dedicated to housing the most vulnerable, longest stayers in DC’s homeless system, 2000 for individuals and 500 for families. We do like the scattered site concept dispersing homeless into apartments they can truly call home instead of concentrating large numbers together in a dorm-like facility such as the Franklin School Shelter at 13th and K Streets, NW (pictured below).
If the 45 day public comment period started April 2, the day of the press release, then it expired last Friday. What we’d like to see next from DC are concrete dates and milestones, communicated transparently, that the city is targeting so they can hit those first and second year goals. Some of the discussion leaders for tonight’s meeting are on the Permanent Supportive Housing Task Force so they are the best informed in the city on the matter. In that context, a few questions come to mind to this writer that might be worth asking at the joint meeting tonight such as:
- When will the Gales School (65 Mass Ave, NW (Mass Ave at G St)) come on line given its dilapidated condition and where will emergency “low barrier” shelter beds be located in the meantime? (The Union Mission website indicates a move date of 2009.)
- How will the city encourage (enforce?) the benchcampers to commute from their newly occupied dispersed apartments instead of camping out downtown all the time?
- How scattered will the housing sites be and will there be downtown zones that are off limits to these housing sites so we don’t end up with another Franklin School Shelter-like situation?
We are hopeful and encouraged that Mayor Fenty’s initiative is the start of a multi-year process that will ultimately result in the reduction, perhaps disappearance, of cardboard condos, plastic palaces and benchcampers. We applaud this initiative as downtown DC’s visitors, workers and residents (homeless included) not to mention the city itself stand to benefit. The proof will take time and hinges on proper financing and implementation but if other cities’ progress are indicative of the Housing First program’s effectiveness then there is much to be hopeful for in getting DC’s most vulnerable citizens off downtown streets, into genuine homes and back on their feet.