On January 30, Hyacinth’s Place presented before the Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Human Services at a roundtable on the causes of and solutions to homelessness in the District. Here is the text of our testimony:
Chairpersons Mendelson and Alexander, and members of the committees, good afternoon.
My name is Vanessa Wellbery and I am here on behalf of Hyacinth’s Place residents, staff, supporters, and board of directors. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
Hyacinth’s Place provides permanent supportive housing to formerly homeless women with a mental-health diagnosis. We have on-site access to mental-health professionals, social workers, and substance-abuse counselors as well as personal enrichment resources like vocational training and financial-planning and nutrition classes.
Today you’ve called for feedback on the causes of and possible solutions to homelessness in the District. I’m here to highlight what one of those causes can be—mental illness. Especially when it’s stigmatized, misconceived, or less apparent than a physical condition, mental illness far too often goes undiagnosed.
If untreated, sufferers face challenges to everyday routines many take for granted—keeping a steady job, maintaining relationships, managing finances, and personal care. They become susceptible to homelessness.
For people grappling with these challenges, the solution is not always providing an affordable-housing unit alone. The solution is to also have quality, consistent, and comprehensive services within its walls. The solution is permanent supportive housing.
Permanent supportive housing pays for itself. Study after study has shown this unequivocally. First of all, it costs less. A lot less. People who are homeless and have a mental-health diagnosis are particularly vulnerable to chronic homelessness, and often cycle through the system. But when they have a home, they don’t have to rely on more expensive alternatives like shelters and emergency rooms. When they are matched with services, they have better health outcomes and fewer hospital visits. The cycle ends.
Permanent supportive housing also promotes prosperity city-wide: when residents have the stability of a home and are in treatment, their lives also become stable, and they can focus on finding employment, pursuing an education, and reaching their full potential.
Before I close, I want to offer another way that you can be our allies. I urge you to be deliberate about infusing housing rights into the other policy issues that you take on. Because homelessness does not exist in a silo.
It needs to be in conversations about domestic violence. Voting-rights. Economic justice. Educational achievement. LGBT justice. Criminal justice. When women living on the streets are routinely victims of sexual assault, it should be in conversations about violence against women. When parents can’t raise their children in safe, healthy, stable environments, it needs to be in conversations about reproductive-justice.
The causes of homelessness are complex, but it is solvable. Making these connections explicit and bringing a housing-rights lens to every issue you take up during the Council session is also a piece of the solution.
Thank you, again for the opportunity to testify here today.