Today, hundreds of us gathered at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church at 8AM for the Way Home Campaign‘s March to End Chronic Homelessness. We listened to impassioned speakers who had experience with homelessness and who urged elected leaders to end chronic homelessness now. One woman talked about having to separate from her kids for three months while she waited to get into family shelter. Her family was placed at DC Village and then Park Road shelter. Over 3 years of shelter later, she finally got placed in permanent supportive housing. Others talked about how we have failed as a community if we have people living on the street, how the solutions are simple and effective, and how all we need is for housing programs to get funded.

Then we marched to the seat of DC government, the John A. Wilson building. With the new statue of Mayor for Life Marion Barry overlooking our action (we think he would have approved), we joined our domestic violence advocacy friends (led by the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence) in chalking up the sidewalk to draw attention to the need for housing for domestic violence survivors (#Chalk4SafeHousing). They wrote messages such as “3/4 single women who are homeless are survivors of trauma and violence” and “safe housing is a human right.”

After a rousing speech and some chanting, we all trooped inside to deliver our ask to Mayor Bowser: that she fund housing in her budget for 1620 individuals and 309 families to bring us closer to ending chronic homelessness. (We also are asking the Mayor to fund additional housing and homelessness asks in collaboration with the Fair Budget Coalition.) Unfortunately, despite knowing we were coming and having nothing on her public calendar, Mayor Bowser was not there to receive our message. Over 100 people, many of whom are currently experiencing homelessness, stood outside her office door on the third floor and asked for her, then a deputy mayor, then literally anyone to come out into the hallway to talk to us. Eventually a scheduler came out. She looked down at our box of paper people, one for each person whom we are asking the Mayor to house in her budget, and said she would deliver it to the Mayor, if it passed security (it had already been through a metal detector and was clearly just a box of paper people).

After making a delivery to Chairman Mendelson, some portion of the group, including two of our attorneys, traveled to the fourth floor for an oversight hearing on the Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Human Services. Here’s our testimony:

“Most recent Rapid Re-housing data shows families still being set up to fail.”

“You know the problems, what is your plan to fix them?”

By the time we testified, only Councilmember Nadeau was on the dais, and she did not ask us any questions.

As one of our attorneys concluded her testimony: “We continue to press for these changes because our clients need, want, and deserve better.” We’ll keep you up to date on ways that you can join this work, and the extent to which our collective advocacy results in real change.