This article co-written with Miriam’s Kitchen advocacy staff members Kurt Runge and Jean Badalamenti
The chronically homeless are all around us, and many are dying on the street. All of us have seen these men and women, outside day and night, in bone-chilling cold, in snow, rain, and in the sweltering DC summer heat. For these individuals and families, a home could be life-saving. According to DC’s most recent Point in Time Survey of the homeless, there are 1,764 chronically homeless individuals living in DC. This week, Councilmembers committed to the task of helping them get permanent, safe housing.
On May 7th, Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Jim Graham introduced legislation that would make significant progress in ending chronic homelessness in DC. They identified the Marketplace Fairness Act (now making its way through Congress) as a long term funding source. DC is expected to get nearly $50 million in online sales tax revenue if implemented. The Councilmembers also committed to acting now, dedicating local funds in this year’s budget. Advocates believe with a $4.3 million investment this year, DC will be taking the first step to end chronic homelessness by 2020.
The chronically homeless make up a small percentage of the overall homeless population in our city. They are people who have been homeless repeatedly or for a long period of time, often as the result of serious mental illness, substance abuse or a chronic medical condition. Half of the long-term homeless population is over the age of 47, and the life expectancy of these individuals is 62 years, ten years less than the general population. These people cannot afford to wait any longer for housing.
The District’s Interagency Council on Homelessness has created a Permanent Supportive Housing Production Committee to recommend a production schedule and monitor development of this type of housing. The committee set a goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2020. In the near term, they recommend increasing funding to the Department of Human Services PSH program by $4.3 million for the fiscal year 2014.
Investing $4.3 million this year will end homelessness for 187 households, allowing participants to stabilize their lives and saving the District to money on emergency services like costly hospital stays, jail stays, emergency room visits, and inpatient mental health services. The tools are in place: the research has been done to assess the need; the Mayor’s $100 million will support production of units available in future years; and service providers are familiar with and prepared to expand the Housing First program (a proven method of administering permanent supportive housing).
Ending chronic homelessness in DC is not only possible; it is within reach. With the support of the DC Council and immediate and long term funding of the permanent supportive housing program, men and women who have struggled on the streets can live out the rest of their lives with dignity, at home.