Viewpoint: Let’s give every Washingtonian a fair shot

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City officials formally broke ground on the Petworth shelter on July 6. (photo courtesy of D.C. government)

By Muriel Bowser

When I took the oath of office as mayor, I pledged to build a D.C. that gives all Washingtonians a fair shot. I committed to making homelessness in D.C. rare, brief and nonrecurring. I said — and I have said many times over the past 2 1/2 years — that in a city as prosperous as ours, we can and must end homelessness.

During my first 100 days as mayor, I worked to develop a citywide plan to end homelessness in the nation’s capital. This plan is threefold. First, we are helping our residents avoid homelessness in the first place. Second, we are getting those who fall on hard times into safe shelter. Third, we are getting families and individuals back into permanent housing.

And our plan is working.

In just the past year, Washington, D.C., saw a 10.5 percent reduction in homelessness, largely due to a 22 percent reduction in homelessness among families. And through increased prevention efforts, we have helped more than 3,200 families overcome a housing crisis and avoid shelter stays.

Our reforms are taking root, and the investments we are making are spurring lasting change. We also know, however, that we need more short-term housing opportunities. Unfortunately, there will be days and nights when members of our community find themselves in need of emergency shelter. This is why part of our plan to end homelessness involves building safe, dignified short-term housing facilities throughout the city.

For the past decade, D.C. General has served as our only emergency family shelter. But we can no longer drag our feet on closing it. The shelter does not provide the depth of services families need to get back on their feet, and its location makes it difficult to balance day-to-day activities with securing a permanent home.

The Petworth shelter will offer short-term housing for 45 families. (rendering courtesy of D.C. government)

This month, in my home ward, we took a monumental step toward closing D.C. General by breaking ground in Petworth on the first short-term family housing project. By building small, service-enriched shelters across our city, we are fighting homelessness head-on. In the coming weeks, work will begin on projects in wards 7 and 8, followed by work on new facilities in wards 3, 5 and 6 in the months to come. Last year, we cut the ribbon on the Patricia Handy Place for Women, a new dignified shelter for women in Ward 2, and we will continue moving forward with plans to house our most vulnerable families in Ward 1.

You put your faith in me, and I put mine in all eight wards of our great city.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, it has given me great pride to see so many Washingtonians rally around this cause. As we continue working together to end homelessness, my administration will stay laser-focused on building and preserving housing that residents of all income levels can afford while connecting residents in every ward to education, health and employment opportunities that set them up for success.

Ending homelessness will take time, but we are headed in the right direction. By staying true to our D.C. values, we will ensure that everyone who calls D.C. home has a fair shot.

Muriel Bowser is mayor of the District of Columbia.