As it did last winter, the city is sheltering homeless families at the Days Inn on New York Avenue NE.
As it did last winter, the city is sheltering homeless families at the Days Inn on New York Avenue NE.

Family homelessness has spiked in the District this year, and there are two principal causes, as I’ll be detailing in this week’s cover story, which will be online tomorrow and in print Thursday. The first is that there are too many families requiring shelter, due largely to the lack of affordable housing in the city. The second is that there are too few families exiting shelter—-again, due largely to the lack of affordable housing.

The city’s main program for moving homeless families out of shelter is rapid rehousing, in which the city subsidizes a family’s housing for a limited period of time, until the family can afford the rent on its own. The problem is that the city won’t approve housing that the family won’t be able to cover alone someday, and so the dearth of affordable housing has meant few families moving into rapid rehousing.

In his State of the District address tonight, Mayor Vince Gray unveiled a plan to help speed up the flow of families out of shelter. The campaign, called “500 Families, 100 Days,” aims to do what the name suggests: move at least 500 homeless families into rapid rehousing or permanent supportive housing between now and June, through outreach to potential landlords.

Gray acknowledged the problem at hand in his speech. “What’s limiting our capacity to help even more homeless families get back on their feet is our ability to identify additional apartments in which to place them,” he said. He called his campaign, in collaboration with the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness and the Transitional Housing Corporation, “a call to arms” for everyone involved to help locate apartments that can house the homeless.

The effort is already underway. According to Department of Human Services spokeswoman Dora Taylor, last week alone, the campaign located 93 apartments that could potentially be used for rapid rehousing and is currently inspecting them. Typically, she says, there are 10 to 15 units per week identified for possible rapid rehousing inclusion.

According to a draft of the campaign plan from last week, the outreach will include focus groups of landlords to learn about their perceived obstacles to participating in the program and ad buys on “96.3, WAMU, 102.3 and other radio venues as well as local newspapers.”

As D.C.’s economy has improved under Gray, the growing homelessness crisis has been a thorn in the administration’s side—-and a pitfall in his campaign for re-election. Outside the mayor’s address at Kelly Miller Middle School, protesters staged a mock funeral in commemoration of homeless residents who have died on the streets. Gray’s landlord campaign won’t put a substantial dent in the shelter population in time for the mayoral primary on April 1, but if it’s successful in moving more homeless residents into housing, it could repair his strained relationship with homeless advocates, who have advocated for similar measures.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery