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Transforming Homelessness in the Nation’s Capital

By Renee Baiorunos

Last week, several members of the Community Wealth Partners team joined about 250 people to kick-off The Way Home: a campaign to end chronic homelessness in Washington, DC by 2017.

Currently, the average number of chronically homeless individuals in DC stands at nearly 1,800 individuals, but The Way Home believes the District of Columbia has “the resources, creativity, and ability to end chronic homelessness.” The kick-off’s main message was not just that we should end chronic homelessness, but that we can: it’s a matter of prioritizing the issue and aligning resources to implement proven solutions — and that’s what this campaign is about.

It was thrilling to see that many of the campaigns past actions and future plans align with our insights on social transformation. A few components stuck out in my mind:

Create Shared Leadership: The campaign includes 19 partners. The kick-off itself included speakers from multiple DC nonprofits, representatives from the faith community, individuals involved in national campaigns, and local Housing First residents.  They have all committed to supporting and holding themselves accountable to this shared goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2017.

Set a Bold Goal: It’s 2014. The campaign has committed to ending chronic homelessness in the District of Columbia within three years.

Balance Your Bold Goal with a Believable Strategy: The Housing First model that serves as a foundation for the Way Home Campaign has already been proven. As Sara Brenner described in a previous post, both Phoenix and Salt Lake City have been able to end chronic homelessness for veterans by using the Housing First model. And research suggests this model can also save money for cities that adopt it.

Experiment, Learn & Evolve: As a first step towards ending chronic homelessness the campaign is focused first on ending chronic homelessness for veteran’s by 2015. In August 2013 there were 443 homeless individuals that needed to be housed to accomplish this goal. In the first 100 days of the effort 96 were connected with housing. Currently, 207 individuals need to be housed for DC to join the list of cities that have ended chronic homeless for veterans. Next up: ending chronic homelessness by 2017. After that: homelessness as a whole.

Live in the Market: Homeless individuals actively lead the People for Fairness Coalition’s advocacy work (one of the campaign’s partner organizations); three individuals who have been affected by homelessness spoke at the kick-off event; and the event was streamed live to Adam’s Place, a shelter in DC, so that interested individuals could also be an active part of the campaign.

Rally Public Support: At the campaign kick-off, each attendee committed to taking a specific action. They encouraged commitments focused on getting others involved, by signing a pledge, calling or emailing DC’s Mayor, tweeting with council members, etc.

Our past client, Miriam’s Kitchen, is one of the leaders of this campaign. I’ve always been impressed with the thoughtfulness they bring to their work every day – from creatively putting together a warm meal (where Chef Steve is “sneaking in the greens”) to using art therapy and creative writing as a means to build strong relationships with their guests.  But I’m most impressed by their dedication to tackling the problem of homelessness at the magnitude it exists. And now I actively cheer them on in their effort to catalyze an end to chronic homelessness in the District. If you would like to get involved as well, you can start by signing The Way Home campaign’s pledge to end chronic homelessness in DC by 2017.

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Renee Baiorunos

About Renee Baiorunos

In her role as director, Renee Baiorunos engages in strategic partnerships with leadership teams, provides client engagement oversight and supports the overall growth and development of the firm. Renee has worked extensively with organizations in the areas of education and youth development, community and economic development, health and hunger. She leads client engagements with a core focus on strategy design and implementation, growth planning and stakeholder engagement and management.

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