Bowser discusses plans to improve affordable housing, change up homelessness services

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration plans to decrease homelessness in the area through legislation and increasing affordable housing, Bowser said at a Foggy Bottom Association meeting Tuesday.

Bowser – who has committed to ending homelessness in D.C. by 2018 – said she wants to work to make emergency services are being provided to the people most in need and to reduce the amount of trash that comes out of homeless encampments. She said she is focusing on changing the “entire spectral continuum” available to the homeless population in the District.

“If we fix the front end, fix the emergency services and make sure there’s more affordable housing available for people when their emergency is decreasing, then and only then will we be able to fix the crisis of homelessness,” she said.

She said people that need affordable housing services are forced to wait for those resources, so they apply to the emergency services system to get help quicker. The city government has committed $100 million annually to increase affordable housing options, and Bowser said she expects this number could increase in years to come.

To decrease the rate of homelessness in the District, Bowser said she has been speaking to her team, including HyeSook Chung, deputy mayor for health and human services, and Kristy Greenwalt, executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, about their next steps. City officials are now exploring options to make sure emergency services are being utilized only by people who need it and to get more homeless people off the streets and into shelters and homes, she said.

Bowser also said she is looking into changing the emergency housing facilities system – because the D.C. General Homeless Shelter is closing, she plans to add replacement units in every ward.

She added that the wealth disparity throughout the city is on the rise, and affordable housing needs to increase to alleviate homelessness.

“It’s not against the law to be homeless,” she said. “It’s not against the law to be outside. But it is against the law to set up camp for a lot of reasons.”

Marco Guzman, a Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory commissioner, said his constituents have shared concerns over the trash surrounding the encampments near the Whitehurst Freeway.

“One issue that I have run into, and some of my constituents have run into, is coordinating with the various D.C. agencies to get clean-ups for these particular areas,” he said.

Greenwalt said at the meeting that District agencies need to provide 14 days notice before breaking up an encampment.

“To our naked eye, it may look like trash, but they have their identification, and they have personal belongings that are very valuable to them, so it’s very important for us that we’re going through those belongings with them at the 14 day mark,” she said.

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