Business, Government, and Housing Advocates Tackle Homelessness Together

In just the month of February 2016, a team created by the Washington, D.C., Business Improvement District (BID); Pathways to Housing D.C.; and the District of Columbia served 177 people without housing in the area. It connected one person to intensive mental health services and moved two into permanent supportive housing. That brought to 14 the total number of persons for which the team secured housing since October 2015.

It’s been about six years since the BID teamed up with Pathways and the District to accelerate its work to find shelter for the area’s homeless people. “We have a large concentration of homeless people in Washington, D.C., and they spend a significant portion of their day in the downtown area,” says Neil Albert, BID president and executive director. “That presents challenges, particularly for a business sector that’s growing. The BID took it upon itself to get folks into meaningful employment and housing.”

For years, Albert has had a team of employees working outreach to homeless people. But they just weren’t having the effect a city-wide team could have by shedding siloed approaches and pooling resources. “Pathways is a national organization, and it was able to bring its technical resources to bear in a way that we couldn’t,” says Albert. “They know where people are in the street, and they know their names and their needs. They also have a network of providers they can connect folks to, whether it’s for medical care or housing vouchers.”

The partnership relies on a housing-first model — often using housing vouchers provided by the District — and then following up to provide the services people need to successfully retain housing. The challenge, however, is that demand hasn’t flagged. “As fast as we’ve been able to provide housing, there are other people having that need,” states Albert. “The question we often ask ourselves is whether some efforts should be concentrated at the front door, preventing people from getting into homelessness.”

That issue arises in part because housing demand consistently outstrips supply. “You have a very robust real estate economy where prices are increasing rapidly and have been for the last four years,” states Albert. “There’s not a lot of availability within the core residential areas of Washington, D.C., and where they exist, they’re high priced. We need more housing and more housing vouchers to make more of a difference.”

Still, team members are undeterred. “Our outreach workers are literally on the street every day, whether it’s raining or snowing — even in our blizzard, they were on the street,” Albert stresses. “They know they have a responsibility and a duty, and they do it.”

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