On February 26, the Committee of the Whole held an agency oversight hearing on the Interagency Council on Homelessness. Here is Hyacinth’s Place testimony.
Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. My name is Vanessa Wellbery and I am here on behalf of Hyacinth’s Place and its residents, volunteers, staff, and board members. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
Hyacinth’s Place provides permanent supportive housing to formerly homeless women with a mental-health diagnosis. Built in 2011, we have 15 efficiency units combined with on-site access to mental-health professionals, social workers, and substance-abuse counselors. We also have personal enrichment resources like vocational training and financial-planning and nutrition classes. This support system empowers our residents to build independent lives and thus prevents them from returning to the cycle of homelessness.
I’m pleased to have this chance today to give you our perspective on the work of the Interagency Council on Homelessness. Over the past weeks, we have joined advocates across the anti-poverty and housing-rights spectrum to testify to the urgency of the District’s homelessness crisis. Before several Committees, Hyacinth’s Place has consistently emphasized three principles:
- First, that the permanent supportive housing model is one of the most powerful tools we have to end chronic homelessness. The PSH philosophy recognizes that for people grappling with challenges like a mental-health diagnosis, an affordable-housing unit alone is not always enough. Equally important are quality, consistent, and comprehensive services within its walls.
- Second, that we need to streamline operations already in place. We can do this by taking a critical look at the performance of existing programs, getting funding for already-approved projects out the door, and mitigating bottlenecking with a coordinated entry system.
- Finally, that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness—individuals become homeless for many reasons, and as such, require many different interventions. Therefore, it is crucial that there is innovative, robust collaboration between the District’s agencies as they take on homelessness.
The ICH’s leadership thus far has demonstrated that they share these principles. They have embraced permanent supportive housing and the coordinated entry system and their processes have been transparent and accessible. And when it comes to collaboration, participants include not just representatives of government agencies but also experts in the field, community and organizational leaders, service providers, clients, and individuals.
After its inception, the ICH could have floundered with little direction or substance; instead, its work has been rigorous and dynamic—it now is positioned to be a powerful force of change in the upcoming year. While the final version of the strategic plan is not yet out, we already know that it will be the most sophisticated, comprehensive, and data-driven plan the District has ever had.
The statistics of homelessness in the District may be daunting, and it’s easy to feel cynical. But if the Mayor and the Council use the ICH’s plan to inform their budgets, D.C. can and will be on track to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2017.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions you might have.