Wednesday, May 10, 2017

PIT Count Results Are In: DC's FIVE-year Plan (2015-2020) Might End Homelessness by 2026 -- Muriel Bowser

(There was a tech issue with the first hyperlink containing the count results. I've linked the longer regional report in its place.)

The results of Washington, DC's January 2017 Point-in-Time Homeless enumeration are in. The general public might see it in the headlines by Friday, May 12th; as, government needs time to decide on the narrative they'll put forth to explain the results. Here's mine:

NOTE: The count is always done at the end of January and results are released around May 10th to 15th.

2017: 7,473 people (A one-year, 10.5% decrease of 877 people)
2016: 8,350 people (It was said later that we missed at least 330 people; but gov is still using 8,350 figure.)
2015:  7,298 people (Muriel Bowser became mayor on January 2nd, 2015.)
2014: 7,748 people
2013: 6,859 people
2012: 6,954 people
2011: 6,546 people (Vince Gray became mayor on January 2nd, 2011.)
2010: 6,539 people
2009: 6,228 people
2008: 6,044 people
2007: 5,757 people (Mr. Adrian Fenty whose protege Muriel Bowser is became mayor on January 2nd, 2007.)

Mayor Fenty oversaw a 789-person net increase in the homeless population.
Mayor Gray oversaw a 752-person net increase in homeless people.
Mayor Bowser has overseen a 175-person net increase in her first two years.

Muriel Bowser's net increase in homeless people during her first two years is lower than those of her two most recent predecessors. Great. However DC has a five-year plan that runs from October 1st, 2015 to September 30th, 2020 and aims to make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring" such that no one will have been homeless for more than 90 days. This means that anyone who is homeless before June 30th, 2020 (including the current 7,473 or so people) will have been connected to housing, left DC or died by then.

If there were no new entries into shelter (which there WILL be), DC would need to house about 2,500 people per year in order to meet the goal of the 5-year plan. So, while it's good that DC has 877 less homeless people than it had last year, a 10.5% net decrease since 2016 puts us on track to meet the goal of the 5-year plan January by 2026 (over five years late). That assumes that none of the programs that have a measure of success lose funding or become defunct. It also assumes that no better ideas come along and that no improvements are made to the current system.

If Mayor Muriel Bowser is as committed to addressing homelessness as she claimed to be during her 2014 campaign and her first quarter in office, then there is a seemingly easy way for her to bring the homeless census down at a faster rate. Simply stop forfeiting millions of dollars in federal funding that was intended to help decrease homelessness!!! The $15.8M that DC has forfeited in the last three years (two of which were during the Bowser administration) could have housed 333 families containing about 1,100 individuals for three years or 1,000 families containing almost 3,500 people for one year. Our current number of homeless people could have already been down to 6,400 or less people. With the DC General Family Shelter having capacity for up to 288 of this year's 1,166 homeless families (if all units were ever functional), the forfeited federal funding would have more than justified the closure of the dilapidated hospital-turned-shelter. If the number of homeless families were to remain static, then 270 of the remaining 833 families could be moved out of hotels and into the seven smaller family shelters by 2019 or 2020 -- leaving 563 in hotels. That said, there's no point in crying over spilled milk. However, there IS a point in being careful not to spill anymore.

But spill they will. One recent account says that DC has 4,000 HUD units -- for singles and families. Let's assume that these units hold 8,000 people. A friend who heads what I'll call a HUD watchdog agency has said that as much as 10% of HUD units could be lost in 2018 if that portion of Trump's proposed budget passes into law. This matter alone could spur an 800-person increase in homelessness before the 2019 PIT-Count (by which time D C will have held another mayoral inauguration). Given the fact that the large one-year increases from 2013 (6,859) to 2014 (7,748) and from 2015 (7,298) to 2016 (8,350) each followed modest decreases the previous years, it stands to reason that DC could reach 10,000 homeless people during or shortly after the Bowser administration. The fact that DC Government, in addition to forfeiting millions of federal dollars, fails to collect millions that it lends developers to build or renovate affordable housing sure doesn't help. DC Government is throwing away countless millions that could have decreased homelessness by much more than 877 people per year -- both local and federal dollars. Spill they will.

Now let's briefly visit the matter of what they do with the money they actually use to address homelessness. In a meeting that I attended on May 9th, 2017 someone who'd already read a recent report on the failings of DC's Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) program said that DC Government paid a caseworker $15,000(?) to increase the income of homeless heads of households.....by an average of $68.00. Why not split the $15,000 between the caseworker's would-be clients and offer the homeless a guaranteed minimum income??? Makes sense. With me having yet to read the report myself, it was also said that almost half of the participants in this government program whose aim is to reduce poverty and homelessness were in eviction court -- being evicted from government subsidized units, because they were unable to cover their portion of the rent which, in some cases, amounts to 60% of their income (the income that the program is supposed to help them to increase). Go figure. Let's figure on at least 1,000 people in families cycling out of RRH and back into full-on homelessness by December 2018. Taken together with the 800 people who lose their HUD units because of Trump and Carson, This puts DC at about 9,300 homeless people right before Bowser leaves office. Other circumstances that lead to homelessness will give us another 700 or so people quite handily and put us at or above 10,000 homeless people right after we inaugurate our next mayor in 2019. It's worth noting here that, while voting an ineffective mayor out of office affords us some level of damage control, it doesn't afford us any damage reduction. We need to develop a system that actually meets the stated goals of the 5-year plan. Rather than only voting Bowser out in 2018, let's demand that she fix the aforementioned systemic flaws and arrest the development of a 10,000-person homeless crisis for which the next mayor will blame her stupidity in much the same way that some people blamed HER predecessor's draconian policies. After all, fixing those flaws and averting the next tragedy of her first term might earn her a lot of votes.


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