“Home for the Holidays” 2017 Campaign and Other DC Initiatives Strikes Chord with DHS Intern

As an intern for DHS, I’ve learned a lot throughout my time here.

On my first day, I spent hours reading about programs that DHS offers for residents who are eligible for cash, food and housing assistance. Now, of course this doesn’t sound like the most fun project, but it was crucial to my DHS education because it provided knowledge about resources that people need. Programs such as: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and many more resources that support thousands of people every day.

Most of my family is from D.C., but before coming to intern for DHS I had no clue about the resources available to those in need. I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland was never exposed to the extent and devastation of homelessness and poverty.

After reading all about the programs that D.C. had to offer, I could not wait to become a part of the solution.

In November 2017, Mayor Muriel Bowser launched the “Home for the Holidays” 2017 campaign to house 400 households experiencing homelessness in D.C. At the end of this campaign, 422 families and individuals were housed, surpassing the goal of DHS and the Mayor.

Mayor Bowser talks with Antonio Wells and his landlord. Behind them is DHS Director Laura Zeilinger and other families receiving keys to their new homes.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, there was a lease-signing celebration on January 10, 2018 at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center that featured four families receiving keys to their new homes from their landlords. One of the tenants whose story stuck with me was that of thirty-year-old Mr. Antonio Wells. Mr. Wells had been couch surfing for the past few months trying to find stability for him and his daughter. Throughout the lease singing, he seemed humble and appreciative for the opportunity with which he was awarded.

Of the four tenants who signed leases, Mr. Wells was the only male head of household. This was encouraging to see Mr. Wells as an African American single parent taking the necessary steps to secure safe and stable housing for his family.

As a fellow black man — he made me proud.

The successful Home for the Holidays campaign was just a small part of Mayor Bowser’s plan to end homelessness that I got to experience while working at DHS.

In the summer of 2016, I was given the chance to visit the D.C. General Family Shelter for a spotlight on one of their residents, Destyni Tyree. She was a 16-year-old Roosevelt STAY Senior High School student who graduated early. Destyni planned to attend Potomac State College at West Virginia University to study secondary education on a full scholarship.

After losing her job, her mom was forced to move her and her daughter into D.C. General. While living in D.C. General, Destyni worked 25 hours a week, maintained a 4.0 GPA, was nominated prom queen and was the captain of her cheerleading team.

Seeing what she had to overcome really resonated with me. Destyni’s accomplishments and story touched me. She wasn’t just a girl without a place to live: like me, she had goals and a vision. I was motivated to work harder in school to become successful to make everyone around me proud; after all, unlike Destyni — I have no excuse. I know there are many others in the District experiencing homelessness like Destyni — people with goals and vision who just need a little help.

An important lesson I learned is that people are not homeless; instead, people can have a homeless experience.

D.C. is taking immediate and aggressive actions to support those having an experience with homelessness.. According to the DHS website, since Homeward DC — the plan to end homelessness in the District — was launched in 2015, there has been a 10.5 percent reduction in overall homelessness, a 22 percent reduction in homelessness among families, a 15 percent reduction among veterans experiencing homelessness, and a 3 percent reduction among individuals experiencing homelessness.

In 2015, Mayor Bowser announced that the D.C. General Family Shelter, one of the largest homeless shelters in the District that houses over 200 families, would be closing and be replaced by smaller, more dignified shelter programs. This will make it easier to deliver services and thereby reduce time that families spend in shelters and help families get back on their feet.

These stats are good but there is still more work to be done. I have been interning at DHS for about a year and a half during my school breaks; but, every time I return, things are improving — progress has been made. By the time you read this, I will be back at school doing homework and covering Terps basketball games with little care in the world. I’ll be back in the summer though — and am looking forward to even more progress.

Isaiah Cromer, Freshman
Journalism Major
University of Maryland, College Park