A coalition of D.C. groups took the next step in a campaign to end chronic homelessness Wednesday, looking to find homes for city residents who spent years in shelters or on the streets.
The effort, which is led by the local nonprofit group Miriam’s Kitchen, looks to raise awareness about the issues facing D.C.’s homeless population that prevent individuals from finding a permanent place to live.
Kurt Runge, an advocacy director at Miriam’s Kitchen, said the uncertainty of homelessness hinders progress for D.C. residents.
“Without housing, no homeless person has the stability to focus on the future, the immediate worry of every homeless person is finding shelter for the current day or night,” Runge said, adding that the group is working with mayoral candidates to further their mission.
More than 200 cheering participants from across the city packed the aisles of National City Christian Church near Logan Circle, clapping and shouting “amen” throughout the night’s 11 speeches.
The effort has already had success finding homes for the District’s most vulnerable residents. A large screen showed previous success stories of the program during the presentations, including a man placed in housing less than one week ago.
More than 1,700 D.C. residents are considered permanently homeless, which means they have slept in shelters, on the streets or in friends’ homes for multiple years and may struggle with mental illness or health conditions.
Linda Kaufman, field organizer for a national movement for permanent housing called The 100,000 Homes Campaign, said homelessness was “a civil rights issue.”
“Everyone deserves a safe place to live,” Kaufman.
Mirroring efforts in cities like Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Boston, the campaign focuses on “housing first” while offering individual social services to keep at-risk populations out of homeless shelters.
Peter Sacco, a junior and volunteer at Miriam’s Kitchen, said the homeless population in D.C. faces even steeper challenges than some other cities because “housing prices continue to soar and affordable housing is not opening up as quickly as needed.”
Advocates hope to see support for their effort when D.C. legislators write the city’s budget later this spring, Sacco said, adding that more must be done to support homeless individuals through counseling or substance abuse programs.
“The streets pose a generally unsafe environment with a lesser amount of personal support systems available to the homeless,” Sacco said.