MVSNA/DNA joint meeting speaker recap

I attended the joint MVSA/DNA joint meeting earlier tonight. This special meeting featured a forum on the homeless issues and housing plans.

This will be part 1 of 2 part post. I’ll recap the forum speaker’s talking points in this space and separate the highlights of the forum Q&A in a follow up post.

Miles Groves of the DNA assembled the follow panel for the forum:

Participants included (from left to right above) Clarence H. Carter, Director of the District’s Department of Human Services; Jose Sousa representing the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development; Chapman Todd, Division Director of Housing Programs at Catholic Charities; Chet Grey, Director of Housing Services with the Downtown BID; and David Treadwell, Executive Director of the Central Union Mission.

The discussion:
Chet Grey led off the discussion. Mr Grey began by stressing that the homeless are people like you and I that simply lack the basic need of a roof over their head. He asked for a show of hands in the room of those who were lifelong DC residents. I believe only 1 or 2 hands were raised. Chet then stated that 85% of the homeless were longtime DC residents. At later points of forum discussion Chet further humanized the issues about both homeless that the BID has helped and notorious pan handlers he is familiar with by referring to these individuals on a first name basis with details of their stories. Chet also explained the Pathways to Housing program the downtown BID participates in, the success rate of the program (90%) and the head counts for how many people they have helped in the program and aim to help in the coming year.

Chapman Todd from Catholic Charities was next in the line of speakers. Mr Todd provided some definitions on the types of homeless and some statistics on the magnitude. Chronic homeless are those for whom homelessness has become their permanent way of life. Transitional homeless are those for whom homelessness is a temporary predicament. The transitional homeless may only experience homelessness a few days a year. The total homeless population in DC was estimated at around 6000. Of which 1840 are chronic homeless in the shelter system, 300 are chronic homeless not participating in the shelter system with the balance being transitional homeless. Mr Todd acknowledged that the Franklin School shelter was a Catholic Charities run emergency shelter. He openly suggested that the facility has not been successful. The Franklin School was not well suited for a use as a shelter. Rather it only became a shelter due to unfortunate past policy decisions of “what’s available“. He stated that this type of shelter was not what Catholic Charities wants to do going forward. The ideal goal of their organization is permanent supportive scattered site housing. They feel that is the strategy best suited to success. Mt Carmel House was cited as an example of permanent supportive housing from Catholic Charities that falls within the downtown area. Todd also appealed to the audience that this approach passes both the Human Dignity and Fiscal tests.

David Treadwell spoke about the Central Union Mission. The Central Union shelter will be relocating in Oct 2009 from 14th and R Streets NW to the Gales School at 65 Mass Ave NW. Mr Treadwell briefly mentioned reasons for the move. Chiefly his currently facility was inadequate with one cited example that heating the old building cost over $300K/yr. Treadwell described Central Union as a ‘high barrier’ shelter facility. This means that they have rules and structure such as no smoking, no cussing, meals and showers are only available at certain times of the day. Central Union also has nightly ministry services. Their plans for the Gales School are for the shelter to be a 125-150 bed facility with upgrades from their current facility including privacy dividers, improving dining area, computers and a day room.

Jose Sousa briefly/rapidly (he’s a fast talker) explained the role of the Planning and Economic Development office. The main takeaway here was that they recognize supportive and affordable housing as being part of their development responsibilities. They tackle this objective by partnering with groups like Catholic Charities, Central Union Mission, etc and work with them to get them the facilities they need.

Clarence Carter of the Department of Human Services spoke the most of any forum panelist. His key points were to describe why the District must take the ‘Housing First’ approach followed by person centric services. The Housing First Initiative (HFI) primarily acknowledges two things 1) Warehousing the chronic homeless in big shelters isn’t effective 2) It’s difficult for anyone to focus on addressing the underlying causes of their homelessness if they don’t have stability of housing. HFI supports the scattered site relocation of homeless in permanent supportive housing. The idea of person centric services is that a homeless person is best positioned to succeed if a program of services that they need, which may include food stamps, job training, substance abuse counseling, etc is individually designed for them. Carter’s team will be responsible for mitigating the closure of the Franklin School so that none of the homeless currently served their will be forced to the streets. He cited that after the closure of the DC Village shelter last year that the District does now have a track record of making this work.

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