Viewpoint: Anne Frank House is sterling local example

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Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, center, presented a ceremonial resolution on Anne Frank House on May 19. (photo courtesy of Mary Cheh)
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By Mary Cheh

On Saturday, I joined the Adas Israel Congregation’s morning services to present a ceremonial resolution in celebration of the Anne Frank House. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this organization, you may be surprised to hear that Anne Frank House is celebrating its 30th year in operation. With a focus on helping those most in need, the Anne Frank House serves as a strong expression of the Jewish value of “Tikkun Olam” — that by improving the lives of others one can, in turn, improve the world.

Based in wards 3 and 4, this nonprofit provides vital supportive housing assistance to those recovering from chronic homelessness and mental health disabilities. Established in 1987 by a group of Adas Israel Congregation members, the organization was an early adopter of what is known as a “permanent supportive housing” model to address homelessness. This model (sometimes referred to as “housing first”) combines housing assistance and wraparound supportive services as a strategy to end chronic homelessness.

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Permanent supportive housing is based on the premise that once an individual’s immediate need is met — the need for safe, clean, community-based housing — he or she has the opportunity to focus on ending the cycle of chronic homelessness. That is where ready access to supportive services comes into play. Supportive services are designed to address the unique circumstances of the individual, to meet them where they are, and to examine how to best restore greater stability and increase the likelihood of future independence. Aside from the immediate restoration of safety, the most impressive aspect of the permanent supportive housing model is its success.

The volunteers of Anne Frank House have truly elevated this concept by building caring, one-on-one relationships with their clients. These relationships provide people experiencing homelessness or struggling with mental health issues with a strong sense of security and friendship. Their volunteers ensure that those important, intangible needs — the need for connection and a sense of belonging — are met along with the immediate need of shelter and financial assistance. This is a remarkable and admirable degree of investment in the well-being of others.

Anne Frank House also doesn’t work in isolation. To help clients achieve greater independence, the organization has built a close partnership with Friendship Place, also anchored in Ward 3. As part of providing the much-needed supportive services, the phenomenal staff and volunteers at Friendship Place offer the medical, psychological and social support necessary for physical, mental and emotional well-being. Together, Anne Frank House and Friendship Place consider the whole person, and it is that care and consistency that makes these two organizations so successful.

The Anne Frank House has been operating a rapid housing program for three decades. Friendship Place has been providing vital services for those experiencing homelessness in our community for the past 25 years. These two local organizations have a strong record of helping individuals escape the cycle of chronic homelessness, and yet it is only in the past few years that our local government has moved toward adopting a housing first model with wraparound services.

There is a tendency in government to look outward for solutions to the toughest problems, or to look for models from other jurisdictions. However, often the best solution may be found much closer. And although I cannot definitively say whether the world has changed, I can say with confidence that the Anne Frank House has greatly improved our community. I hope you will join me in extending congratulations to this wonderful Ward 3 organization.

Mary M. Cheh represents Ward 3 on the D.C. Council.