D.C. General Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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In March 2015, two months after Muriel Bowser was sworn in as D.C.’s seventh mayor, she made an eyebrow-raising promise. 

“With the Council’s support of our homeless funding plan, we will deliver on another promise: ending family homelessness by 2018,” she said during her first State of the District address. The announcement came alongside the bigger goals of making homelessness “rare, brief, and nonrecurring” by 2020, and eliminating homelessness altogether by 2025. The commitments were a cornerstone of Homeward DC, a roadmap for navigating the District’s housing crisis with a genesis tracing back to the tail end of the previous mayoral administration. 

But Bowser, who ascended from the D.C. Council to the mayor’s office as the District was beginning to show signs of recovery from the 2008 recession, took “ownership” of the plan, says Laura Zeilinger, the director of D.C.’s Department of Human Services. Zeilinger says Bowser was emphatic about wanting it published during her first 90 days in office—after all, the new mayor campaigned on the promise to reform D.C.’s shelter system. Under her predecessor, Vince Gray, the number of homeless people in the D.C. region had begun to steadily rise, from about 6,500 people when he took office in 2011 to nearly 7,800 in 2014. By the time Bowser was inaugurated, there were 7,300 homeless people in D.C. 

The early aughts were rocky years for the District, and for the country as a whole. Even as the American economy rebounded and some states made progress in reversing rises in homelessness, others flailed, with rates of homelessness ticking up in tandem with the District’s increase. In Massachusetts, homelessness has increased by 33 percent since 2007, and in New York, by 47 percent. In South Dakota, it has increased 100 percent. 

The problem is acutely felt in D.C., and the numbers have barely budged since Bowser took office. The District has spent years, if not decades, in a purgatory of “economic development,” leaving an estimated 6,500 people homeless, according to the most recently released data from D.C.’s annual count. That number, which most experts consider a conservative figure, is at best equal to what it was a decade ago, and 800 people fewer than it was the winter of Bowser’s first State of the District address, despite her administration’s efforts to reduce it. On the whole, homelessness in D.C. is 30 percent higher than it was in 2007, giving the District the dubious distinction of joining 14 states that have seen their homelessness figures go up since 2007. 

Our city-state has identified more people without housing in it than West Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, and North Dakota combined. Homelessness is higher here, where there is one of the greatest wealth gaps of any major city in America, than it is in 31 states. The national rate of homelessness—the number of homeless people out of every 10,000 residents—is 17. In D.C., it is 99. U.S. Census Bureau data indicate that the bottom 20 percent of earners in D.C. take in a paltry two percent of the city’s annual income. The top fifth make more than half of it. Homelessness is a racial justice issue, too: African Americans comprise only 46 percent of D.C. residents, but 86 percent of homeless single adults and 97 percent of families experiencing homelessness. 

To be sure, the Bowser administration has logged some successes. It shuttered the noxious and degraded D.C. General homeless shelter and, with the D.C. Council’s help, executed a plan to open smaller shelters in most wards, despite many of those projects being mired in petty, if not outright racist, lawsuits. Bowser’s human services agency opened a long sought-after day services center for homeless adults, and has plans to update a handful of low-barrier homeless shelters for single people. 

Despite those wins, Bowser’s government has not met any of the major homeless population targets outlined in Homeward DC. Far from fulfilling her campaign promise to eliminate homelessness for good, some populations have actually seen a rise. The District’s education system has reported an increase in student homelessness nearly every year since 2016, with homeless youths outnumbering the entire homeless population reported by DHS. Veteran homelessness, which Bowser promised to snuff out by the end of 2015, actually increased from 2017 to 2018. Homelessness among single adults continues to increase, too, and dozens of unsheltered people die on the streets every year. Despite pledges to reduce D.C.’s reliance on motel rooms as emergency overflow shelter, DHS continues to pay for hundreds of rooms.

Family homelessness, perhaps the Bowser administration’s greatest initial focus, has fared relatively better, but still hasn’t seen anywhere near the progress needed to end it soon. By the most optimistic math, it has decreased about 24 percent from 2015 to 2019. Simultaneously, the number of families who receive temporary subsidized housing vouchers through rapid rehousing has doubled since Bowser took office—these families are not counted as homeless—and they often live in some of the city’s most deplorably maintained apartments.

This comes even as the Bowser administration spends generously on social services: Zeilinger pegs the city’s total investments in its homeless services system alone at $170 million, a figure she calls historic, while Bowser has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to affordable housing production—at least $100 million every year since she took office. But for all the administration’s nimble deal-making, legal service providers and advocates for the homeless say critical large-scale problems remain. Chief among them: a stubborn refusal to fully acknowledge the scale of the problem. 

“There is this incredible disparity between what we see is the real experience of families and, on paper, the imagined reality,” says Judith Sandalow, the executive director of Children’s Law Center, a decades-old legal services center that assists more than 5,000 kids and families a year who disproportionately live in D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods. “The city seems to be putting in place policies that don’t acknowledge the reality of the individual children and families that we see our residents experience.”

The reality of those choices, including a near single-minded fixation on decreasing family homelessness at the expense of homeless single adults, is now catching up with her administration. The spread of COVID-19, particularly in at-capacity homeless shelters, has potentially exposed hundreds, if not thousands, of vulnerable people to the virus. At one point in late April, positive cases among the unhoused were 2.5 times higher than they were among the general population. To date, nine people experiencing homelessness in D.C. have lost their lives to COVID-19.

Five years after Bowser’s promise to end family homelessness, and five years away from her goal of eradicating it completely, the District is still, at best, treading water. 

***

The Bowser administration made waves when it published Homeward DC. The 95-page plan had three major goals: to end homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015; end chronic homelessness among single adults and families by the end of 2017; and reduce overall homelessness by 65 percent by the end of 2020. It generated a genuine thrill among the people working in D.C.’s legal services and advocacy community, who were ready to see a mayor get serious about tackling homelessness.

“It was a good plan, and it had a lot of support. It was concrete in the way that sometimes plans aren’t,” says Amber Harding, a staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless who has worked on housing issues in D.C. since 2003. 

It also had buy-in from the Council. Her first summer in office, Bowser and the Council passed a budget that virtually fully-funded the proposals in Homeward DC, including permanent supportive housing for 363 chronically homeless single people and 110 families, as well as tripling the number of people receiving short-term rental subsidies. 

Part of Homeward DC’s strategy involved redesigning the District’s emergency shelter system, along with its alphabet soup of transitional housing programs. One of the Bowser administration’s first acts in that vein was to expand the District’s right to shelter law. Up through Gray’s administration, D.C. was only obligated to provide emergency shelter to families during hypothermia events, when the temperature dropped below freezing. 

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“It was awful,” Harding says, adding that the restriction “[put] families in really terrible situations.” D.C. is still only one of three jurisdictions to boast a right to shelter law, and the effect of expanding placements was immediate and dramatic. Aside from humanely providing shelter to families who needed it, the change allowed shelter providers to avoid a huge spike in services in winter months when hundreds of families would simultaneously seek relief. It made both moral and logistical sense. “My first few days here, there were days that more than 100 to 200 families were entering shelter [in] one week,” Zeilinger says. “Now we have between 20 and 30 families who enter in that same time, and that’s a lot.”

But one big thing Homeward DC failed to do, in Harding’s eyes, was account for the need to approach homelessness holistically. To provide more people with more stable housing options, there needs to be more affordable housing. Beyond a mere dearth in the District’s housing supply, the private market in D.C. does not naturally produce enough of the kind of units that voucher-holders need, including apartments with more than two bedrooms or units that are wheelchair accessible. 

It also became clear that, while the Department of Human Services would administer the bulk of the District’s homeless services, the District needed more buy-in from other housing agencies. The city’s interagency homelessness council—a group of cabinet members from several local agencies who help guide the city’s response to homelessness—exists in part for this reason. “The reason that the Interagency Council on Homelessness was developed to begin with was to say, homelessness is a citywide issue that every agency has a role in solving,” Harding says. “And I don’t think there’s been political will to control or guide development more.” 

It wasn’t until May 2019, about four years after the publication of Homeward DC, that Bowser announced an effort to produce 36,000 more units of housing across the city by 2025, with one-third of them considered “affordable.” But D.C.’s need goes far beyond that commitment: A recent Urban Institute study pegs the immediate regional need at 264,000 units. 

After the first year of Homeward DC, efforts to fully fund the plan—both on the Council and in the mayor’s office—petered out. Neither body proposed budgets that fully met the plan’s financial need in any of Bowser’s subsequent years in office; at times, proposed spending met the stated need of sheer units by only half or less. 

By fiscal year 2019, according to budget priorities outlined by a coalition of advocates for the homeless, Bowser and the Council funded only 43 percent of the known need for permanent supportive housing, a long-term housing voucher program that includes extensive counseling services. The same year, funding for targeted affordable housing, a permanent rental voucher program, decreased from the previous year to meet just 28 percent of the need. In fiscal year 2020, while the budget funded the need for family permanent supportive housing units, it met only a fraction of the need for singles and for targeted affordable housing. All that comes despite the fact that the sheer number of dollars invested in homeless services actually grew year over year, according to DHS.

“When that happens, you know, you lose ground really quickly,” Harding says. “Because the plan always [said], basically: this is the minimum that you need to do.” 

In January 2016, around the first anniversary of Bowser’s inauguration, the number of homeless D.C. residents ticked up to 8,350, according to data from D.C.’s annual count of its homeless population. It is against this number that her administration compares subsequent declines in family homelessness—one statistic it touts in particular is that, under Bowser, family homelessness has declined by more than 40 percent. That is technically true if you use the 2016 data as a baseline, but highly misleading since, as even D.C. government employees would later argue, that data was anomalously high. “The increase is primarily due to housing affordability challenges in the District, and increased demand for stable housing assistance that is brought to bear on the homelessness system,” said a report compiled by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, which has long contracted with D.C. to oversee homeless services in shelters and motels. 

The group also wrote that it could attribute part of that increase to D.C.’s right to shelter law, essentially arguing that D.C.’s numbers were higher that year simply because more people had access to emergency shelter. Zeilinger and Kristy Greenwalt, the director of D.C.’s Interagency Council on Homelessness and the director of the federal ICH’s housing policy during the Obama administration, agreed. Both subsequently began to call for stronger reform in the shelter’s intake system.

But the problem with that line of thinking, advocates say, was simple: D.C.’s right to shelter law has been in effect since the 1980s, and even though the Bowser administration had recently widened eligibility, the District has always conducted its homelessness count in the winter, when people have always had the right to emergency shelter. (To that, Zeilinger says, “we had a lot of entry into the system. … You had both the phenomenon of an increase in entries, because that’s the expectation of the community—that you can get in during hypothermia season—[plus] everybody who needed shelter who came in before then.”)

In May of 2017, Bowser introduced legislation to the D.C. Council that would amend D.C.’s Homeless Services Reform Act, a 2005 law that guided homeless services in D.C. and was updated twice by the mayoral administrations of Gray, in 2013, and Adrian Fenty, in 2010. Bowser’s iteration was ostensibly designed to bring D.C. closer to meeting the goals outlined in her Homeward DC plan, but it received almost universal condemnation from legal services and advocacy organizations, including a coalition of 46 groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Legal Aid Society, and DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. They argued that her desired reforms seemed to get there not by expanding services to people who need it, but by restricting who could access services in the first place. 

The final version of the bill, passed 10-2 by the D.C. Council in December 2017, redefined who is considered homeless and, therefore, who could access services. It also introduced a stringent local residency requirement to the shelter system, requiring families seeking shelter in D.C. to supply proof of local residency—a necessary change, the Bowser administration said, because too many homeless people from outside D.C. were trying to access services here. Though that ostensibly included exemptions for vulnerable populations like refugees, asylees, and survivors of domestic violence and assault, service providers argue that the HSRA updates muddle their legal status more than they clarify it. 

All of that had a cascading effect on the homeless services system, beginning with the number of people who qualified for emergency shelter. At hearing after hearing before the D.C. Council, legal service providers recounted cases of clients being turned away from the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, in many cases during the middle of the night.  

Diversion away from shelter, far from a statistic the administration tries to hide, is actually baked into the Homeward DC plan. DHS anticipated needing to direct hundreds of families away from the shelter system each year to meet their own benchmarks on ending homelessness, though advocates say that number has, in reality, reached the thousands. (This work often includes temporary case services, with Virginia Williams staff trying to place potential clients with friends or family instead of in the shelter system.)

Though many of the HSRA changes were geared toward narrowing D.C.’s intake system, demand has persisted, in some years rising: 3 percent more families sought housing services from Virginia Williams during the winter of 2019 than they did the previous year, DHS data show.

“Once I think they realized they weren’t meeting those metrics anymore, and the numbers were going to look bad, they turned to those other strategies of sort of masking the true need by changing the definition of homelessness,” Harding says. “In fact, I think there’s an argument that some of those numbers have increased or some of those things have been hidden … They turned their focus to only who lives in shelter [or] on the street, without considering other metrics of homelessness.”

One example, to start, is homeless students. D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education reports that there are about 7,400 homeless students in D.C. alone, far above the 6,500 people counted by DHS as homeless in D.C., and more than double the roughly 3,080 students reported as homeless in 2014. That discrepancy exists in large part because D.C.’s human services agency, like others across the U.S., does not consider children who are couch-surfing—people who are “doubled up”—homeless. 

Other surveys indicate there are many more children facing housing instability in D.C. than even Office of the State Superintendent of Education data indicate. Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation show that, as of 2018, there were an estimated 22,000 children in D.C. living in “crowded housing,” or children sharing a room with at least one other person. 

“The number one issue, to start, [is] how do we count?” says Children’s Law Center’s Judith Sandalow. “We’re missing lots and lots of kids.” 

“I think one of the reasons why we want the mayor to think bigger than just children in shelters or on the street is because the harm of homelessness, which is obviously what we’re all trying to ameliorate, is a harm that we think is also true for children who are living in incredibly crowded, doubled up situations,” Sandalow says. Both conditions—sleeping in a shelter and hopping from house to house—result in uncertainty about where you’re going to sleep next. “The incredible instability, the moving from place to place and having to change schools, the uncertainties of parental stress, [the] violence, all of those things exist for children who are doubled up,” she says.

Zeilinger notes that DHS follows the federal housing department’s definition of homeless for the purpose of conducting its annual count “because those are the numbers we have to report to [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development],” she says. “It doesn’t mean that we’re trying to define it differently.” She adds: “We consider, what is the best way to meet the needs of somebody, and the range of programs [they] qualify for? So someone who’s at risk of homelessness, who may not be counted by HUD, but may be counted by [the U.S. Department of] Education, that isn’t what’s relevant. What’s relevant is: Can we help them stabilize without having to come into shelter?”

Service providers say D.C. has also failed to meet the needs of homeless teens who are close to aging out of the system. The problem is particularly acute for queer and transgender people in D.C. Ruby Corado, the founder of Casa Ruby—one of the few shelters in the District dedicated to serving LGBTQ youth—says that while the Bowser administration has been responsive to funding beds in her Ward 4 shelter for young people, it has patently refused to fund beds for adults. 

Last year, Corado met with Bowser and other human services officials to discuss funding for the next fiscal year. She requested funding for beds that could serve 50 adults; on her own, she can only finance 20. In March alone, for example, those 20 beds provided 496 nights of shelter for adults. 

What she heard from the administration was that human services officials held a focus group with stakeholders in the LGBTQ services community, and that the response was essentially, “gay people told them that they don’t want a gay shelter,” Corado says with a dubious laugh. That meant the administration would not finance the adult beds she needs. (Zeilinger says she was not present at the focus group meeting and cannot comment on its recommendations, but says, “we’re really committed to making sure that all members of our community have a safe place where they can come at the time that they need it.”)

“At this point, it becomes my data versus yours,” Corado says. “It was the perfect excuse. I’m not a scientist, I’m not a person who does scientific research, but [we] have more than 46 percent of homeless youths that are LGBTQ—you don’t think there’s adults that are [in need]?” She adds: “Housing services is like a mafia, with the same providers getting the same dollars.”

Corado’s difficulty finding funds to support homeless single adults tracks with how the District has prioritized tackling homelessness. More broadly, homelessness among single adults has risen slightly, by about 3 percent across the board, from 3,770 people in 2018 to 3,875 in 2019. That figure is in fact marginally higher than it was in 2015, when Bowser came into office. The ICH has since said that, when it drafted Homeward DC, it assumed that 30 percent of single adults in shelter would be able to “self resolve” every year. Data show that figure is closer to 12 percent. 

And though Casa Ruby has a mandate not to turn anyone away, Corado’s resources are starting to strain. For the first time in eight years, Corado says, she has had to deny beds to potential clients, most recently a 29-year-old trans woman experiencing homelessness. The population she serves is uniquely vulnerable: In 2019, of the 81 homeless people who died in D.C., at least 14 were trans. 

“I allow a lot of bureaucrats to spit on my pride and my dreams of giving homeless people a better life. And some of them have treated me like dirt,” Corado says. “Some of her bureaucrats have spit on my pride. And guess what? I took it. [People have] told me, if I speak, if I push more, I’m going to lose what I’ve got. Most of the time I stay quiet so I get the little bones they throw at me.”

That’s the thing that infuriates Corado the most, she says: the attitude that service providers should be grateful that they’re getting any money at all. “They make people feel like they’re doing them a favor,” she says. “It’s crazy.”

***

Aubrey Taylor was living with his 5-year-old son at D.C. General in the final months of the shelter’s life when he received a rapid rehousing subsidy. 

The program, born out of the Obama administration in the wake of the 2008 recession, is essentially a short-term housing subsidy that, in D.C., ends after one year. It allows recipients to pay a maximum of thirty percent of their income, whether that’s $20 a year or $20,000, toward their rent.

Though Taylor works a part-time job, his wage isn’t high enough to afford market-rate rent in D.C., where the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment is $3,100 per month. His rapid rehousing subsidy allowed him to move into a one-bedroom apartment on Edgewood St. NE with his son.

He quickly encountered problems with the unit, including a rat and bedbug infestation that became so severe he would wake up to find bite marks on his son’s arms and legs. The landlord, unresponsive to Taylor’s maintenance requests, never paid for an exterminator to come to the property, Taylor says. That financial responsibility fell to Taylor, despite the fact that landlords in D.C. are legally required to maintain safe and clean housing, and conduct all necessary repairs. But Kathy Zeisel, a staff attorney at the Children’s Law Center, says it’s often rapid rehousing clients who struggle with the worst housing code violations.

Central to a robust, progressive housing services system is the concept of “housing first,” which holds simply that the single most grounding force in a family’s life is a safe and stable place to live—that when families facing financial, professional, or medical difficulty have a home, it’s much more likely that they can get job training, go back to school, care for their children, and safely store medication. Housing services providers developed this principle in the late 1980s, and current national experts in housing policy champion it; it now also guides publicly run services for the homeless in dozens of major cities across the country. 

D.C. leaders have embraced it, too, and the concept is mentioned early and often in Bowser’s Homeward DC plan. A “housing first” approach to solving homelessness is often touted as justification for the Bowser administration’s increasing reliance on rapid rehousing, which it now considers the “primary housing intervention for families who are transitioning from the emergency shelter system.”

Primary intervention, indeed. In February of 2016, a year into Bowser’s first term, just over 1,080 families had rapid rehousing vouchers, at a cost of roughly $26 million annually to the city. It would continue to grow in 2017, to 1,358 families, and again in 2018, to 1,434 families. 

When, in a brief and unceremonious announcement, Bowser permanently closed the doors on D.C. General, it accelerated the District’s reliance on the rapid rehousing program even further, giving DHS a way to quickly re-home families who were living at the facility.

There are now more than 2,300 families in possession of rapid rehousing vouchers, at a cost of nearly $52 million a year to the city, according to recent DHS data. (For context, the District forecast that it would spend $37.3 million total in fiscal year 2020 on Homeward DC investments,  which includes spending on other housing and homeless prevention programs.) Rapid rehousing is also newly defined in the HSRA as a form of permanent housing, and program participants aren’t considered homeless. A side effect of the Bowser administration’s reliance on the program, intentional or not, is that it allows officials to tout a decrease in family homelessness even as more families than ever are seeking and receiving housing assistance.

The best available data, including data collected by DHS, also shows that rapid rehousing is falling short in key metrics year to year, presumably because, over time, an increasing number of people are being shuffled into a program that might not meet their needs. 

Take personal income, arguably the most important metric to consider when it comes to determining who rapid rehousing might best serve. Over the last four years, the average monthly income of rapid rehousing recipients has actually decreased, dropping from about $1,860 per month in 2016 to $1,600 in 2019, according to DHS data. It follows, then, that rapid rehousing voucher holders are less likely to be able to afford rent on their own when the program ends, and early data seem to bear that out. 

In a sample of 882 families who received rapid rehousing vouchers, nearly half—46 percent—had eviction cases filed against them. And a whopping 42 percent of the families who sought and received services from D.C.’s emergency shelter system last year had previously received rapid rehousing subsidies. 

“We know that our data isn’t perfect,” Zeilinger says of the income data. “When we have a growing number of people in the program that are entering at all different times, and then average it all together, [the] earnings are variable.” She adds that, particularly in the rapid rehousing program, participants experience “disincentives to earning, and to showing earnings” in “profound ways”—“people understand that the point [where] they start to rebuild their income is the point at which they are exited [from the program]. And so we need to be able to allow people to build their earnings without facing a penalty for that,” she says.

The District’s response has been to weigh tweaks to the program that make it more difficult for people who already receive benefits to maintain them: Six months into the program, voucher holders who don’t receive services would go from paying 30 percent of their income toward rent to 30 percent of the total rent. The amount would then increase each month until the 12-month mark, when participants are expected to take over the full amount of their rent. If recipients aren’t in compliance with paying a portion of the rent, they would not be eligible for an extension at the end of the program.

“I’d say that those recommendations actually move it completely away from being a housing first model, because they make any extension or continued services contingent upon being compliant with program rules,” says Zeisel, who is on the task force whose members suggested the change. “It moves the District away from national best practices, which say that your housing is not contingent upon you agreeing to [certain rules].”

But Zeilinger is not persuaded by the argument that D.C. should curb its use of the program, even if not all participants can make payments in the long run.

“Some people would say, [if] it’s not clear how, when a family is in shelter, or an individual is in shelter, they will in the long run or in a year be able to fully pay their rent on their own, you should not exit them from shelter with anything other than a voucher or a permanent subsidy. While I understand that in theory, we would not be able to offer shelter to people who need it,” Zeilinger says, “because we would not, we do not, have long term housing subsidies for every single person in this city experiencing a housing crisis.”

Taylor is now worried he’ll become just another person for whom rapid rehousing didn’t work. In August 2019, when Taylor’s caseworker notified him that his voucher subsidy would end in two months, Taylor scrambled to write a letter requesting an extension. But Taylor, who is dyslexic, asked his caseworker to review the note before sending it. After confirming he would, the caseworker notified Taylor just weeks before the subsidy termination that he sent the request without editing it, and that Taylor had been denied an extension. (Local nonprofit Bread for the City is representing Taylor in an Office of Administrative Hearings case challenging that verdict.)

“I was explaining to my caseworker, I need a tutor. I need one-on-one help,” he says. “I didn’t get the extra hand that I wanted, that I really needed.”

The experience capped off a maddening year of case services, Taylor said, that included his caseworker showing up to meetings up to two hours late—at times making Taylor late to pick up his son from school. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the help,” says Taylor, who is now worried he’ll have to turn back to the emergency shelter system. “But when they help, it’s a month later, weeks later. I need help now.” 

***

On March 11, Bowser declared a public health emergency in D.C. in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents who could do so remained in their homes, mourning the closures of their favorite restaurants and talking wistfully about the loss of contact with friends and strangers. 

For the homeless in need of shelter, social distancing was not an option. DHS began isolating its highest-risk clients in hotel rooms and installing hand-washing stations across the city. Low-barrier shelters, like Corado’s Casa Ruby, began to report increases in demand. 

Facing staggering losses in sales tax revenue, the District now stares down up to $770 million in cuts to the next budget, on top of what it will have to trim in the current fiscal year. Service providers for the homeless are, presumably, holding their collective breath.

It is true that the homelessness crisis is vastly bigger than one District employee, one local agency, even one city. Bigger, too, than one pandemic. But for the homeless, whose lives quite literally depend on every line item in D.C.’s budget, the worst is almost certainly yet to come. As the pandemic became America’s great clarifier, it was obvious, all at once again, who the most vulnerable among us are. 

On March 10, the day before Bowser declared a state of emergency, D.C.’s Interagency Council on Homelessness voted on finalizing an updated version of Homeward DC—effectively another five-year plan for ending homelessness in the city. It capped months of revisions of the plan’s first iteration, which has guided the Bowser administration these last five years.

Human services officials circulated an initial draft of the plan to advocates and reporters at a meeting early this year, though they would reportedly not allow reporters to summarize or quote from its contents. Greenwalt, the director of D.C.’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, declined through a spokesperson to speak with City Paper about the plan, and a spokesperson for DHS did not respond to City Paper’s inquiry about what the plan’s major points contain.

So will Bowser meet her goal of ending homelessness completely by 2025? “I don’t want to give you my prediction on a date,” Zeilinger says. Even for the head of D.C.’s homeless services system, the city’s path forward is unclear.