Give us another try, and join us in the effort to end homelessness

Earlier this month, the Washington Post published “Mayor’s homeless efforts uneven; persistent number of singles living on the streets even in frigid weather.”  In this article, author Peter Jamison focuses on some of the work left to be done as Washington DC continues to implement strategies and tools to lessen the number of individuals experiencing homelessness.

With the District’s robust plan to end homelessness, we can expect significant challenges along the way, but we also must continue to move forward. This work requires a huge collaborative effort and in many ways, proves extremely difficult.  Work left to be done can’t overshadow the positive changes made to the singles system that are moving us towards our goal of ensuring homelessness in the District is rare, brief, and nonrecurring.

Connecting our residents in need to housing and services and partnering with nonprofit and government colleagues is a labor of love for us at Catholic Charities.  However, like Executive Director Greenwalt and Councilmember Nadeau stated in the article, we know there is more work to be done to continue our system transformation and meet the needs of this population. We echo their call to draw more attention to the needs of our single clients experiencing homelessness.

Pinpointing the exact number of individuals experiencing homelessness is challenging because it fluctuates from day to day.  At Catholic Charities, we provide more than 1,100 emergency shelter beds to this group of residents each night.  The number increases this time of year, as temperatures drop, and operations at ten hypothermia emergency overflow sites throughout the city spring into action.

Our clients know what they need and we are listening. Along with city officials and community leaders, we have taken to heart requests from clients who have participated in Interagency Council on Homelessness meetings and workgroups over the past 18 months.  While we continue our work to scale our housing programs, we have also begun changes to improve access to the services our clients have indicated they want and need.  The District has increased access to daytime services within the system, including the Adam’s Place Day Center where individuals can address their everyday and long-term needs. They can find supports for career planning, case management, laundry and shower facilities, and complete housing assessments.  There is, however, still a need for additional facilities like this in other parts of the city.

Catholic Charities is committed to ending homelessness, and in doing so we know we must meet our clients where they are, and give them the best opportunity to access and utilize services available. Within our low barrier shelter system, concerns expressed by clients about facility hours led the Department of Human Services to increase funding for and authorize extend operating hours.  We now open two hours earlier in the evening and close two hours later in the morning. This has allowed our clients more time with case management staff, but still allows us enough time during the day to ensure buildings are thoroughly cleaned and maintained. The city also recently completed a heating/AC and electrical grid overhaul at our largest facility, 801 East Men’s Shelter, to provide a better and less disruptive environment.

Clients asked for more access to case management, so with limited resources, we’ve adjusted schedules to provide daytime case management access at our low barrier facilities.  This is in addition to the overnight case management we’ve offered for years, providing more flexibility and opportunity for those in need. We’ve increased client access to shelter program leadership in facilities and in various community meetings. This helps us to hear directly from clients about what’s working and what’s not. We have opened our doors to other nonprofit organizations serving our clients to match them with permanent housing resources like Rapid Rehousing, veterans housing, or Permanent Supportive Housing.  We have also increased overall coordination with medical, mental health, and veteran service agencies, with proper client consent. We work collaboratively to provide clients in our shelters with access to other Catholic Charities services including behavioral health care, dental and medical care, legal services, and more. We are excited to continue our partnerships with clients, colleagues, and the government to bring about even greater progress and opportunities for singles and families experiencing homelessness in the District.

To our partners in this effort, thank you for the unwavering commitment and thoughtful, hard work.  And to our brothers, Mr. Osman and Mr. Queen, we ask you to please give us another try. Give us a shot to show some hospitality and provide a warm, safer place to stay this winter. Help us learn how to better serve you, and in the morning, let us join you in the effort to end your homelessness.