DC hopes to end homelessness by 2017

This story aired March 28, 2014

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- This has been a brutal winter for the 3,000 chronically homeless in D.C. We caught up with Jeffrey Stokely downtown during the biting cold when advocates were checking in on the homeless. Mayoral candidate Council Member Tommy Wells was also there.

"People are going to come out and be supportive but they're running for Mayor so I understand that too," said Albert Townsend with People for Fairness Coalition. "The reason we came out at 1 a.m. is to make sure all the work that was done previous that people were actually moving off the street."

The work done previously was the National Point and Time – volunteers' annual count of the homeless.

Townsend used to be one of them. Now he helps other homeless people find shelter and eventually permanent housing through the grassroots group, People For Fairness Coalition.

Mayor Vincent Gray -- who is seeking re-election -- is trying to tackle the issue opening the city's hypothermia shelters sending vans to pick folks up off the streets, and coordinating buses so those who refuse shelter at least have a warm place to sleep at night. But with the family shelter at the old DC General already at-capacity from last season, the city scrambled to abide by the law and get other families including children into warm shelters. So hundreds have stayed in D.C. and Maryland hotels, dozens at make shift shelters in city recreational centers.

"No human should live like that," said Stephanie Williams-Harris, "just because we're homeless doesn't mean we're animals!"

The Harris family is among a group of folks who sued the city over unsafe conditions at the rec centers. An eviction notice forced them out on the street.

"One in five District residents pay half their income in rent," explained Elizabeth Falcon with the Housing For All Campaign, "so a lot of people are living on the margins of making it and not making it."

Falcon said D.C. didn't preserve its affordable housing during the recession, so now when condos overshadow housing developments and cranes litter our landscape, folks are simply priced out.

"We just need to be thoughtful as a city about how we grow and making sure we're not growing for some people and leaving some people behind," she added.

But the Mayor is proposing a new plan including asking landlords for up to 500 units across the city that can house the homeless. The administration has identified 280 homeless veterans and is committing to getting them all homes by next year with an overall goal to end chronic homeless for 3,000 by 2017.

"With the combination of bringing real estate market to the table bringing the faith community with our own resources," Mayor Vince Gray explained, "I think we have a real good chance of substantially lowering the magnitude of this problem."

And it's proven to work. Scott Schenkelberg CEO at Miriam's Kitchen told us, "It's also inviting the larger community in the industries particularly those who are deeply affected by homelessness, healthcare, or real estate and development any of those industries tourism in DC's case all of those industries should be aligned in ending homelessness because it will actually save those industries money."

Advocates say taxpayers stand to save $75,000 and with $120 million in the budget the Mayor says the money is there - all we needed was a plan.

"We need to create urgency because frankly people have been seeing homeless in the streets of DC for decades," said Schenkelberg, "and it's not that they don't care it's that it's not so in your face and doesn't seem like it's ever going to change."

But for folks like Reggie, Davinia, Bryan even Jeff Stokely change could save their lives. It did for John McDermott.

This is the final installment of Delia Gonçalves' three-part series on Homelessness. If you are homeless in need of services or know someone in need contact:

Miriam's Kitchen at (202) 452-8926. Advocates can connect you to the Housing First Program, Housing for All Campaign, and People for Fairness Coalition, a grass roots group of formerly and currently homeless people working to get others off the streets.

PREVIOUS STORY : Life after homelessness: examining DC's homeless crisis


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