U Street-Based Legal Group: Ending Homelessness Within Reach

by Borderstan.com February 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm 0

From Joey Gavrilovich. Follow him on Twitter @joeygDC, email him at joey[AT]borderstan.com


What’s the future of affordable housing in DC? (Luis Gomez Photos)

Affordable housing in DC could fairly be described as a collective pipe dream: residents agree that it is a must-have, yet there is also broad resignation that it will probably never happen. Housing seems to affect everyone in the District, from young singles clustered in group houses to families crammed into one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Most affected are the District’s homeless, numbering at least 6,954 individuals, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments‘ 2012 point-in-time count.

The political will behind making housing affordable was apparent during Mayor Vincent Gray’s State of the District address last Tuesday, as his administration’s $100 million housing commitment garnered a standing ovation and the most applause of any initiative announced.

But given that the DC Housing Authority’s waiting list for aid tops 67,000 applicants, the mayor’s one-time investment in 10,000 units falls well short of present and ongoing demand.

That housing for all is seen by many as a pie in the sky idea is understandable, yet Amber Harding sees it differently. Harding is a staff attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, a 26-year-old organization operating out of U Street’s storied True Reformer Building since 2003. Harding and her colleagues believe DC has the means to permanently end homelessness.

“It seems daunting,” says Harding, who regularly provides comprehensive legal services to homeless individuals throughout the District, “but if we start taking steps and prioritizing populations that are most in need, it is completely feasible to end homelessness in DC in a matter of years.”

Prioritizing seniors and people living with HIV/AIDS is a practical and necessary first step, says Harding, who testified in January before the Interagency Council on Homelessness, saying that an annual commitment of up to $10 million would permanently end homelessness among these populations.

“Public funding will continue to go toward our most vulnerable citizens,” said Harding in a follow-up interview with Borderstan, “and the difference between responding to homelessness and actually ending homelessness lies in how those dollars are applied. Rental vouchers paired with housing first for our most vulnerable citizens costs so much less than the dollars constantly going into shelter and ER services and other public systems that come into play as a result of people not having housing.”

Harding cites the Obama Administration’s successes with housing homeless veterans and former Mayor Fenty’s stalled work toward ending chronic homelessness in the District as precedents. Looking beyond the most vulnerable, her goal is to make clear to policy makers that “providing people with the space necessary to maintain their health, obtain their education, and find the right job, along with the other things that generate self-sufficiency, is the proven, humane and most cost-effective intervention to chronic homelessness.”

Harding adds that ensuring quality of life is also key, citing a recent study which concluded that one’s housing stability is linked to the amount of privacy in their living space, and in particular, their bathroom.

That should get no argument from any DC resident who has ever lived in a group house.

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