During this year’s “hypothermia season,” cities afflicted with freezing cold temperatures have been ramping up their efforts to create temporary housing for the homeless.
While solutions like Boston’s Night Center create emergency shelter solutions, some cities are shying away from operating in triage mode and looking for more perennial strategies to keep people off the streets.
Washington, D.C. Shifts Money From Case Managers to Housing Navigators
Over the past couple of years, Washington, D.C. has struggled to transition homeless singles and families into permanently affordable housing during the winter-to-winter cycles. Because the city has a policy not to evict families from temporary shelter, many families ushered into housing during the previous year’s winter are still living in the temporary shelter needed to house the newly homeless this winter.
Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a series of interventions last week that should help ease the challenge of housing the city’s 4,000 homeless. The city has secured 152 new vouchers for long-term housing as part of an effort to create more permanent affordable housing. Bowser will be hiring four housing navigators to help identify suitable apartments for people. The money for the hirees comes from $600,000 in funds that had been originally intended for additional case managers at one of D.C.‘s family shelters.
“At this point in the fiscal year … we believe that the best use of the case management money is a different type of case management and that’s housing navigation. That will get resources on the street right away,” Bowser told The Washington Post.
Laura Zeilinger, the Mayor’s acting director of human services, adds, “We’re basically filling an important gap. What oftentimes slows down the process … is that we don’t have enough folks whose core expertise is really real estate and housing acquisition. We are expecting social workers and case manager staff to also have an expertise in how to navigate that.”
Los Angeles VA Rises to the Occasion
Following a class-action lawsuit, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced a strategic plan to better utilize its 387-acre tract in West L.A. to create more permanent housing.
The city has the largest population of homeless veterans in the country. The VA had come under fire for using its L.A. campus for uses other than housing and for allegedly discriminating against veterans who suffered from severe mental disabilities.
Coming on the heels of the arrival of a new director at the West L.A. facility, the VA will spend the next 100 days hiring experts to help homeless veterans get into permanent housing, make temporary housing available and partner with the organization Home for Good to find homes for 650 individuals.
This development is right in line with the Obama administration’s effort to house all of the country’s veterans. Last month, New Orleans became the first city to announce that it has found permanent housing with support services for all the veterans living in the city.
Salt Lake City Group Asks State of Utah for Help, Rankling Mayor
In Salt Lake City, the Pioneer Park Coalition, a nonprofit public-private partnership is asking state lawmakers to close the gap in an ambitious commitment to create 300 units of permanent supportive housing for the homeless in the city.
They’ve already secured $3.4 million from Salt Lake County, private partners and coalitions members to construct and furnish 100 units and are asking for $1 million more. The housing will take advantage of low-income housing tax credits and will be close to transit.
But in the process they’ve drawn criticism from Mayor Ralph Becker, who has released a joint statement with City Councilman James Rogers, chiding the group for not asking for public input on the site selection process, saying, “As we work together, locations to be considered for permanent supportive housing must go through a site-selection process in cooperation with residents and businesses, and be consistent with local ordinances and housing policies.”
The Mayor has his own goal of creating 5,000 affordable housing units, for which he’s said coalition building is critical.
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Alexis Stephens was Next City’s 2014-2015 equitable cities fellow. She’s written about housing, pop culture, global music subcultures, and more for publications like Shelterforce, Rolling Stone, SPIN, and MTV Iggy. She has a B.A. in urban studies from Barnard College and an M.S. in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.