Financial Stability: a Powerful Tool in Combating the District’s Homelessness Problem

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In the National Capital Community, which includes Washington, D.C., and the suburbs of Northern Virginia and Maryland, approximately 260,000 residents don’t have access to mainstream banking services. These “unbanked” residents are left without connections to a bank account or the tools and knowledge needed to effectively navigate our financial systems. They are vulnerable to predatory lenders and activities, and susceptible to homelessness as a result of spiraling into severe financial instability.

Recent studies show that a staggering 41% of households in the District lack the basic financial safety-net needed to endure an emergency, such as the loss of a job or a medical crisis, much less plan for home ownership or their child’s education. Without sufficient savings or other assets to lean on in a moment of crisis, too many District residents live only one or two paychecks away from homelessness.

In fact, more than 8,000 District residents are experiencing homelessness at any given time. Throughout the region, that number climbs to more than 12,000. The face of homelessness in the National Capital Community is diverse, with some living on the streets long-term, while many others are employed but living with family or friends because they cannot afford their own homes. The reasons for this are complex - the high cost of housing in our region; the challenges of finding work with decent wages, and; the complexities of navigating our financial systems. However, we are creating on-ramps to moving our residents away from homelessness and that starts with improving their financial stability.

We can collectively forge a path to financial stability for everyone in our community. Through our extensive network of partners, we are working to remove the barriers preventing people experiencing homelessness from accessing many services that will help them meet their short-term needs and get on the path to long-term stability. For example, by connecting local-area service providers with the homeless during Project Homeless Connect, we are building on a national best practice model recognized by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. Through this “one-stop-shop”, participants can apply for an ID card, access legal, employment or housing services, or receive free medical care and exams.

Last year, hundreds of people took advantage of these services and 54% of those participating said they would otherwise not have been able to access these services. Offering critical, life-saving services demands dedicated partners throughout the community like Friendship Place and U.S.VETS providing housing services; Whitman-Walker Health providing HIV testing; Howard University Resident Physicians providing medical services; So Others Might Eat providing employment, dental and mental health services; area stylists providing haircuts; and many more organizations, government agencies and businesses working to put a real future within reach, regardless of a person’s current life circumstances.

Through our partnership with the People for Fairness Coalition, we’ve increased our outreach in the homeless community and expect to be able to help even more. Providers from across the region have responded generously, allowing us to expand service offerings to include voter registration, financial education, and even emergency cell phones.

These are important steps to help those living in shelters or on the streets, but what about the rest of the 41% of the community living on the verge of homelessness? We are committed to providing 100,000 residents with services that remove barriers to financial stability and gain affordable housing by 2020. Already making good on that commitment, we support Financial Empowerment Centers in Prince George’s and Fairfax Counties (in County, Maryland and Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, respectively) which are offering low-income families with personalized guidance, such as how to access the Earned Income Tax Credit – a critical tool in battling poverty. By offering easy access to quality financial services, we can expand the possibilities and support people on the path to building assets, reducing debt and making informed choices around their personal finances.

By working together, we can change the game for low-income families around the Washington, D.C. region and eradicate homelessness. This requires empowering our community members with the tools and services to move toward prosperity and a more secure future. For some, this means meeting immediate basic needs like housing, food, and healthcare before working on long-term financial goals. For others, this means understanding credit reports, establishing a budget, and perhaps saving to buy a home. We are working together to make the pathways to financial stability and success clear and attainable for every member of our community.