Testimony of Polly Donaldson, Executive Director, Transitional Housing Corporation, at the Human Services Roundtable on the “Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014” and the “500 Families. 100 Days.” DC Housing Campaign
Good Afternoon. Thank you Chairman Graham for
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convening this hearing and inviting our testimony. I am Polly Donaldson, a resident of Mt. Pleasant in Ward 1 and Executive Director of Transitional Housing Corporation (THC) based in Ward 4. I serve on the District’s Interagency Council on Homelessness and also as board chair of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED). Currently THC provides housing and services across the continuum of transitional and permanent housing for over 500 homeless, at risk, and low income families in the District. And in 2014, we will break new ground in order to add more than 80 homes to the city’s stock of affordable housing. I want to comment today on both the 500 families, 100 days campaign and on your Sense of the Council resolution.
Transitional Housing Corporation (THC) had an active role in advancing the “500 Families. 100 Days. DC Quality Housing NOW” Campaign. As both a developer and a service provider, THC was able to understand and speak to the need to increase the affordable housing stock available to homeless families and the efficacy of the supportive services that are provided to families in Rapid Rehousing. THC led outreach efforts to the non-profit housing developer and funder community, participated in landlord focus groups and campaign events, and referred landlords to DHS and the Community partnership in order to further the Campaign. “500 Families. 100 Days” provided an immediate, tangible way to address the homelessness crisis that is facing our city. The campaign focused on identification of apartments available to homeless families entering rapid rehousing. To this end, the Campaign has been a success and has produced momentum that needs to extend well beyond the 100 day benchmark. Indeed, the effort with landlords and providers needs to continue year-round. Key changes have been made to rapid rehousing programming after input from landlords. DC’s landlords, in turn, heard the call to step forward. Over 500 apartments were identified. Families in DC General also participated in the identification of units. Rapid rehousing and other best practices within homeless service provision have come to the forefront of policy debate at the Wilson Building and throughout DC’s media. This hearing, itself, highlights that press and attention on the crucial issue of homelessness will not disappear once the hundred days are up. As a city, we have realized it will take collective resolution to end homelessness and have begun the process of mapping such resolution.
Which brings me, CM Graham, to your Sense of the Council resolution regarding the closure of the DC General family shelter. I don’t think there is anyone in the city who thinks that DC General is a healthy and safe environment in which to raise a family. Its intent to be the city’s a temporary shelter, accessed on an emergency basis, for short term stays has been long lost.
I concur with the resolution and want to emphasize the following points—especially those outlined in section 4. The policy recommendations in Section 4 address the needed revamping of the family homeless system away from the de facto “shelter as solution” system we have to a more comprehensive system that includes prevention, accurate assessment of needs, appropriate placement in housing with the right mix of services, and designing a budget and plan for implementation that has the appropriate resources in place throughout the system. Additionally monitoring and evaluation of successful outcomes and tracking and provision of “safety net” support to those few who don’t succeed is essential as well. We need to follow the successful models from across the nation that focus on a true systems approach to ending homelessness.
I am happy to discuss any and all ways that Transitional Housing Corporation and the Interagency Council on Homelessness can help in making this systems change happen.