Housing First: Ending Chronic Homelessness

Ten years ago, Pathways to Housing DC introduced a bold new approach to ending chronic homelessness in Washington, DC – a problem that for decades seemed intractable. At that time, few in the Washington area had heard of Housing First, or understood the impact it would have in such a short time.

Word of our success spread quickly.  Suddenly funders and other service providers wanted to know more about using our Housing First model to house the people they had historically struggled with helping the most: chronically homeless men and women living with serious mental illnesses, addictions, and complex health conditions that put them at risk for dying on the street.

Today, the Housing First model is recognized as the most effective and efficient way to end chronic homelessness. It has been adopted as policy on the local and federal levels. We are now well on our way to ending chronic homelessness both in the District and around the nation. Along with our community partners, we have a detailed plan, realistic timetable, and clear commitment to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year and chronic homelessness by 2017. We say that with a sense of pride and optimism.

As Pathways to Housing DC enters our second decade, we are renewing our commitment to literally extend the lives of the people we serve so that they can be happier, healthier, and more hopeful as they age in their homes. Housing is just the first of many steps we offer to help people recover. With support from our private and public funders, we are deepening our work to ensure that we continue to provide the most cutting edge mental health, addictions, and physical health services. We envision a community where people who have been receiving treatment from our public mental health systems do not die 25 years earlier than most Americans – as they do now – but have the same life expectancy as their neighbors.

With a capacity building grant from The City Fund, administered by The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, we have begun a strategic planning process to create the road map to reach these goals. Innovation, evidence, and client choice will form the foundation of this plan. These core values have been the bedrock of our success over the past decade.

Not that long ago, few could have imagined that giving individuals experiencing homelessness the keys to their own apartments without strings attached would be the key to ending chronic homelessness. It’s humbling, energizing, and powerful to anticipate what new strategies will help us solve the challenges of the next decade.

Guest blog from Christy Respress, Executive Director of Pathways to Housing DC.