DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Remarks, 2015 National Conference on Ending Homelessness

These are the remarks delivered by Washington, DC Mayor Myuriel Bowser on the first day of our 2015 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, July 15, 2015.

On behalf of the District of Columbia, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to our nation’s capital – where we have joined the nationwide race to end homelessness.

Washington is a wonderful city, a world-class city. This is my hometown, and I can tell you firsthand – we’ve come a long way since I was a kid. We enjoy one of the healthiest economies in the country. We are one of the fastest growing cities. We top just about every ‘top 10’ list when it comes to livability. And our city finances are strong. Yet despite our tremendous success and prosperity, prosperity does not reach every corner of our city.

I wish I could stand here and tell you that we don’t have homelessness, that everyone in our city enjoys a roof over their head, that every man, woman and child has a place they can call home. But you and I know this isn’t true.

We face in our city historic economic inequality – with too many families struggling to meet their most basic needs, and far too many of our people living on the streets. This is unacceptable, and it’s why we’re on a mission: a mission to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring.

The solution is not simple, and it certainly isn’t one-size-fits-all. If it were, we wouldn’t be here today. You and I know that it will take more than just one government entity or just one advocate. The solution requires real collaboration and partnership across the entire community.

That is why, here in the District, we created a local Interagency Council on Homelessness – with everyone around the table: the City Administrator and cabinet directors; advocates and providers and most importantly, people who have experienced homelessness who know what’s working in our system, and who know all too well what’s broken in our system.

With their input and ideas, we recently released a strategic plan – called Homeward DC – which serves as a roadmap to achieve our goals. We developed the plan based on evidence and proven practices…. based on what it really takes to end homelessness: more affordable housing; permanent supportive housing; rapid rehousing, with a focus on services; and doing all of it in a ‘Housing First’ way.

So collaboration is important. And smart planning is important.

But we also know that money matters, and DC is putting our money where our mouth is. Despite coming into office with an overall budget gap at the start of this year, I proposed historic investments to end homelessness in the District. And I’m proud to tell you that we passed a budget that invests $145 million for locally funded homelessness assistance, including a nearly $23 million down payment on the first year to implement our strategic plan.

The budget includes several million dollars in prevention. And we’re looking to our partners in New York City and the Home-base model to inform those efforts. We devoted $35 million for permanent supportive housing for families and individuals. We have $20 million set aside for a rapid rehousing program, which we continue to refine to ensure that people get the support they need to succeed.

We’re investing in more wraparound services, so that we can approach the problem holistically.

For the first time in 10 years, we opened a daytime service center. The center serves as a place where people can take care of immediate needs like laundry, showers and foo. And it’s also a place where they can receive services that directly link them to housing, and to job support.

We’re moving resources around to better serve constituents. As one example, we shifted from using traditional case workers for housing placement, to professionals who have experience in real estate. We call them housing navigators, and with their help, we more than doubled the number of families moving from shelters to permanent housing.

My budget also makes historic investments in affordable housing.

Those of you who live here know that DC has become a very expensive place to live, with housing prices booming in recent years. So we’re investing $100 million in the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund, to both preserve and create affordable housing in the District, with a portion devoted specifically to people who experience homelessness.

These investments are just a down payment. We have a long road ahead, but we’re committed. And we set some big goals: We joined the first lady and President Obama in their call to end Veteran homelessness this year, and to end chronic homelessness in 2017. And we committed to ending family homelessness in 2018: two years ahead of the federal goal.

I understand these are bold goals – and there are people who doubt we can do it. But we owe it to our community to aim high. And we owe it to them to achieve high. We are making the investments – and taking the steps – here in our nation’s capital to show that it’s possible. And we’re holding ourselves accountable. We are building a performance management system that tracks our progress, with weekly and monthly targets.

We have a top-notch team, led by DC Director of Human Services Laura Zeilinger. Many of you know Laura from her stellar work at the US Interagency Council. And we have a strong leader at our local Interagency Council on Homelessness, Kristy Greenwalt.

Now, I know that Washington isn’t alone in the race to end homelessness. Other cities like Salt Lake, New Orleans and Houston are stepping up to the challenge. I also know there are innovative and inspiring things happening across the country – largely led by all of you

And that’s the purpose of this conference to share with each other, to learn from each other, to inspire each other. Thank you all so much for being here. And thank you for everything you do to strengthen our communities, and to bring an end to homelessness in America.

It is my hope that every state, and every city, joins DC in this race to end homelessness, and it is my hope that we win this race together.