• DC is attacking the homeless problem with a "housing first" approach.
  • Open Arms Housing is a success story.
  • The DC mayor hopes to provide an additional thousand permanent housing units by 2020.

Washington, D.C.’s Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has made it part of her mission in the city’s highest office to delve into the homelessness conundrum and emerge with concrete solutions.

A proponent of the “housing first” philosophy which first became popular in the 1990s, Bowser is putting the city’s money behind the effort, with a line item for the creation of 365 permanent housing units for homeless single adults. Many believe that “housing first” is a better option than increasing the number of homeless shelter beds, and adding in supportive services.

She is credited with fueling the momentum behind an effort to provide permanent, safe apartments for the homeless, especially the single female adult demographic. Bowser’s plan to end chronic homelessness by 2020 includes about a thousand additional permanent, supportive housing units.

One of new buildings meeting this need, in the District’s Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast, provides shelter for four formerly homeless women. These lucky four are among 2,700 adults in the District who live in permanent supportive housing units.

They are beneficiaries of Open Arms Housing, which operates two small buildings, one of which opened in October. Open Arms has been in business since 2009, and recently told The Washington Post that in that time, only one resident has ended up back on the street.

The apartment buildings are paid for with a mix of  of local, federal and donated funds. Everything inside the apartment is donated, right down to decorative touches. Tenants sign a lease, and are required to pay 30 percent of their income as rent.

Sometimes, these permanent supportive housing units are located in otherwise market-rate apartment buildings. Some arrangements, like that used by Open Arms, have social workers and other staffers on-site to serve myriad resident needs as they work toward permanency.

Studies have shown that support wrapping around the newly homed costs less than so many of the other costs associated with homelessness, such as emergency room visits and inability to get to or keep a job.

Agencies such as Open Arms carefully track clients even after they leave, and can attest to the success of the housing first philosophy. As the agency told The Post, the women who have left their apartments have gone on to move in with relatives, to nursing homes or group homes, or have become self-sufficient enough to live independently.

Email Kimberley Sirk.

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