When a family facing homelessness walks through our doors at Friendship Place, the first thing we do is have a conversation with them. We ask questions and listen to what they say. This helps us determine immediate steps to rapidly resolve their situation.
It is now time to have similar conversations within the D.C. community. Mayor Bowser is moving the City forward in the fight to end homelessness. She has taken courageous stands in her first term, but ending homelessness in our area is a huge endeavor.
D.C. has the highest rate of homelessness per capita of any city in the United States. There are a number of reasons why – the lack of affordable housing, ingrained poverty, and pressures caused by new residents moving to our area. So, how do we keep the next family from losing its home?
One key element is timing. In many cases, homelessness can either be prevented outright, or even reversed, if there is a program in place to quickly respond. Solutions also must be tailored to each individual case. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is often ineffective in the long term. Only by listening to understand each family’s unique challenge and acting in a nimble way can we actually help solve their problems.
Earlier this year, Friendship Place announced a $1 million match opportunity with Amazon. With an initial investment from Amazon, we launched Family Connect in September.
Family Connect was designed to reach out to families in the DC Metro area with cost-effective, long-term solutions for families facing homelessness. It incorporates high-quality, person-centric case management, matched with rapid response. The program allows Friendship Place to quickly eradicate the possibility of homelessness before it happens.
Recently, a single father reached out to Friendship Place because he and his daughters were facing eviction in ten days. The father was employed, but his earnings were just not enough for him to make ends meet. Though he tried, he was not able to restructure his expenses to take on the increase.
Using the Family Connect approach, we were able to connect with his management company to pay back-due rent and cover the next month. We did this just one day after speaking with him. The eviction was stopped, and this family did not lose its home.
The anguish this dad felt at the thought of finding himself on the street with his daughters and possibly losing everything he had worked for was eliminated in that one day.
Today, the father has a full-time job working for DC’s Metro system (WMATA), and he’s able to independently provide for his family.
With a program like Family Connect, we’re able to come in quickly and find solutions before a family’s situation deteriorates. People in crisis or who are homeless do not have time to wait for solutions. They need help now.
And that is what makes Family Connect unique – we use private funding to supplement public services. This adds flexibility and allows for immediate impact. For example, Case Managers are able to create relationships with landlords and employers, which is paramount, and it allows for quick responses and adaptability to meet families where they are. The program team is empowered to act immediately before situations get worse.
Ending homelessness means that we are building systems strong enough to catch people in time. When we adapt rapid, tailored solutions, the trajectories of human lives are irrevocably improved. We’ve asked the right questions, now let’s drive the new-found answers to solve the homelessness crisis in our city.
Jean-Michel Giraud is President & CEO of Friendship Place, a leading nonprofit organization committed to ending homelessness and rebuilding lives in the Washington, D.C. region. Visit FriendshipPlace.org for more information on the program and how you can help this holiday season.