More details requested on DC pilot program supporting homeless residents

A D.C. Council member is hoping to get more answers and information on a pilot program intended to make sure that residents experiencing homelessness are moved into housing safely.

On Tuesday, Council member Brooke Pinto and seven of her colleagues sent a letter to Wayne Turnage, the deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, about the Homelessness Encampment pilot program that began on New Jersey and O streets NW, the NoMa underpass and E and 20th streets NW through Virginia Avenue NW.

“We ask that you provide detailed information to the Council on new processes and protocols that will be put in place to ensure everyone’s safety as the pilot moves forward,” the letter said.

The program focuses on providing housing-focused case management, as well as behavioral health and substance use support to people living in homeless encampments.

The letter comes weeks after a resident of a camp in Northeast D.C. was taken to the hospital after being inadvertently picked up by a Bobcat front-end loader.

“We were extremely disturbed, distressed and disappointed to see a bulldozer injure a resident,” Pinto said.

Council member Elissa Silverman suggested last week that D.C. “should pause all encampment clearings while continuing the intensive services and housing outreach of the pilot.”

Pinto and the other council members said they want to learn from Turnage’s department which parts of the pilot worked well and should be replicated in other parts of the city, as well as what did not work well.

“The deputy mayor understands that this is time sensitive, and he has been a helpful partner moving forward. And my expectation is that they will get back to us soon, hopefully within the week, to let us know how we can move forward together in support of the pilot,” Pinto told WTOP.

The pilot is being implemented while decreasing the wait time between issuing a voucher and placing a homeless resident into housing.

“This approach addresses concerns we have heard from residents and advocates time and again — that the voucher process takes too long,” Pinto’s letter said.

There are about 3,000 permanent supportive housing vouchers funded in D.C.’s budget this year, and there are a little over 650 unsheltered people, Pinto said, adding that it’s her hope to move as many people as possible into housing as soon as possible.

The budget, announced last May, features a “record-setting $250 million investment in the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) for a total one-time investment of $400 million.” It touts some 2,700 units of affordable housing over the next two to three years, with up to 1,100 “deeply affordable” units.

A recent audit found that the Department of Housing and Community Development missed goals for disbursing at least 50% of HPTF resources to the city’s poorest resources.

WTOP’s Scott Gelman contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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