Four hundred Washington, D.C. residents experiencing homelessness are set to receive temporary housing during the holiday season following a citywide campaign that Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) unveiled Nov. 20.

Dubbed “Home for the Holidays,” the initiative is aimed at assisting the District’s homeless population, which is currently proportionally larger than other similarly sized cities across the United States. According to the 2017 Point-in-Time Count, a marker of the number of homeless residents on a given day, nearly 7,000 D.C. residents were without a permanent residence on January 25, 2017.

Home for the Holidays falls under a larger District-wide initiative, “Homeward D.C.,” a five-year plan launched in 2015 to end the chronic challenge of homelessness affecting D.C. residents.

Bowser unveiled the initiative with Laura Zeilinger, director of the Department of Human Services, at a lease-agreement signing between a District resident and her landlord on Nov. 20. The resident, who had previously been homeless, was the
72nd District resident to be matched with a landlord through the Home for the Holidays campaign.

FILE PHOTO: SPENCER COOK/THE HOYA
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) uneiled a “Home for The Holidays” campaign Nov. 20 to provide permanent housing to 400 currently homeless residents of the District.

“We are so excited about this effort because every resident of the District deserves a place to call home,” Zeilinger said at the unveiling. “During this holiday season, we are sounding the alarm for our landlords and our good neighbors to help make this happen for as many households as possible.”

Though the initiative was officially announced on Nov. 20, Bowser began promoting the campaign on social media and placing individuals in housing since Nov. 15.

The DHS will work to find safe, affordable and stable homes for families and individuals experiencing homelessness through Jan. 15, 2018, when the campaign concludes. Bowser emphasized the importance of making effective matches between landlords and stakeholders to ensure that the housing placements are mutually beneficial and last beyond the holiday season.

“Through this campaign, we are calling on landlords across the city to work with us to get families in D.C. home for the holidays,” Bowser said at the event. “We have the right resources in place to find permanent homes for our most vulnerable houses, but now we need available, affordable units.”

To help encourage landlords to rent homes to homeless families after families receive a subsidy from the government, the DHS launched the Landlord Partnership Fund in October, a privately operated fund landlords can draw from to subsidize the costs of potential property damage that might be difficult for the new residents to cover. This initiative is crucial for individuals who have been searching for affordable housing units, Zeilinger said

“Our goal is really to promote access to housing that exists in our community for people who have subsidies and are working hard to exit homelessness, but are just being turned away from unit after unit,” Zeilinger said in an interview with the DCist Oct. 6.

In addition to looking for matches between landlords and stakeholders, the DHS is collecting donations of household items to assist the new residents in starting their homes.

Bowser announced her goals in 2015 as part of her Homeward D.C. plan.

“Together, we will end long-term homelessness in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said when she unveilled her plan in 2015. “By 2020, homelessness in the District will be a rare, brief and non-recurring experience.”

From 2016 through 2017, the first full year of the implementation of the Homeward D.C. plan, the District’s overall rate of homelessness decreased by 10.5 percent. There was also a 22 percent decrease in homelessness among families and a 15 percent reduction in the number of veterans experiencing homelessness.

Bowser and the DHS are using these city-wide programs to work towards managing a problem that the District has struggled with for years. For Zeilinger, the new programs can be the necessary step to getting the D.C. homeless population into permanent residences.

“It is really rough on folks to be continuously rejected from housing opportunity after housing opportunity after housing opportunity when they’re trying really hard to get to a place of stability,” Zeilinger said. “We really want people to have a second chance. They need a second chance.”

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