Right Size at the Right Time

HSRA updates will increase system efficiency and help individuals and families move through crises and on from DC’s homeless emergency system, and as Executive Director of Homeless and Housing Services at Catholic Charities DC, I support these changes.

If we want to end homelessness in the District for the 7,473 persons in this crisis, we must make the most of our limited resources; that requires very difficult choices. Often when a client has exceeded the capacity of a certain program to meet their need, or has shown great progress toward 
self-sufficiency, it means it’s time to reallocate their slot to the next person in crisis. However, under our current version of the HSRA, the decision to end or continue a person or family’s stay in a housing program is not determined by experts in the housing and homeless services field, nor is it determined by our DHS program and provider monitors. These decisions are currently handled by judges armed with only the outdated 2005 HSRA and a very limited client and system perspective; this needs to change.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington serves a variety of populations through 58 programs across DC and Maryland. In my role, I oversee 26 of those programs operating in the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Southern Maryland 
Tri-County Continuum of Care. Our programs in DC include single adult low barriers shelters; a youth and adult recovery focused transitional housing program; a large scattered site Permanent Supportive Housing program for singles and families; a Family Rehousing and Stabilization Program; site based PSH programs and Single Room Occupancy programs for single adults. We have and will continue to grow our programs because of the leadership of our CEO Father John Enzler, who when faced with the choice to serve more vulnerable families and individuals he always says “YES!”

Our support of the HSRA updates offered to the DC Council and Committee on Human Services earlier this month have come from our experiences with families and individuals anxiously awaiting the right sized housing intervention at the right time.

In our Family Rehousing and Stabilization Program (FRSP) we serve families who are exiting emergency shelter or were otherwise unable to avoid homeless through other prevention or emergency assistance available in the city. The families we’ve seen struggle mightily in FRSP have also spent extended time in emergency shelter prior to getting into a RRH program. 
It is well-supported in our field that the longer a family or individual spends in crisis (aka homeless or in emergency shelter), their mental and physical health deteriorates, kids do worse in school, and substance use tend to increase. These represent some of the many incentives we have to increase efficiency throughout our homeless service system and avoid unnecessarily long emergency shelter stays for families and individuals.

As a system, we must continue to improve the ways we prevent homelessness, engage those in crisis, and more swiftly end their homelessness. This is more possible when precious permanent housing resources are strategically and efficiently prioritized for those with the greatest need.

We must also be able to step people down from high intensity programs when their levels of need change and/or help them move on from our housing assistance programs. Only then can we serve the next person or family who presents a greater need. Without the proposed updates to the HSRA, our precious high intensity program slots can be monopolized by those whose needs have changed.

A greater emphasis on residency and a call to greater regional collaboration

We agree with the sentiment said by many other providers, advocates and government officials, ‘we cannot expect the DC homeless emergency services system to address the affordable housing needs of people and families in the District or our region.’ Furthermore, we believe that slightly increasing the amount of documentation or verification needed to prove DC residency sends the message that ‘we are here to help but our precious resources will be prioritized for DC residents.’

This greater emphasis on DC residency can signal that we are one of many jurisdictions where individuals or families experiencing a housing crisis can seek assistance — not the only or preferred jurisdiction. We believe the amendments to this section of the HSRA rule will help clarify DC’s role in this regional crisis. These updates to the rule are a culmination of more than a year of meetings with homeless service providers, current clients, advocates, and government partners. I’m very proud of the work we are doing and the way our DC ICH and DHS leadership has created an environment of collaboration where we can discuss, and yes even argue, to find the best way forward.

We have a unique position at Catholic Charities. We operate housing and homeless services in four distinct Continuums of Care in the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Charles, St. Mary’s, and Calvert Counties in Maryland. It has been a privilege to participate in the good work of these CoC’s in our region. Currently there are several exciting things happening in these jurisdictions including a comprehensive gap analysis of a county’s homeless and housing assistance services and new prevention and rapid rehousing programs in another county and finally a regional survey of the needs of residents on the edge of poverty and at risk of homelessness. Each of our jurisdictions are taking hard honest looks at what we do well and what we must improve. As shown in our recent Point in Time counts we are making real progress.

By increasing DC’s real-time and ongoing collaboration with surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia, we can help clients who desire to stay in their own communities, get connected and potentially rehoused where their current networks already exist. Without these proposed updates to the HSRA and ongoing collaboration with our regional partners, clients will continue to look to DC to seek services due to a perceived ease of access to short and long-term housing solutions rather than seeking solutions within their home communities.

There is a wealth of expertise represented in the agencies leading and participating in these CoC’s. The passion and commitment of the providers and government partners to end homelessness in their respective communities is invigorating. I believe there is great opportunity in our region to share knowledge and learn from one another. Perhaps in the future we may even build ways to share resources and tackle this regional crisis together.

Amanda S. Chesney, LICSW, LCSW-C — Executive Director of Homeless and Housing Services, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington