Do you know how many alleys there are in the average city? Well, ok, neither do I…but after last night, I have a much better idea. Last night, instead of just bustling by these dark passages as I usually do, I traipsed up and down every alley I came across here in downtown DC.
As you’ve probably guessed, I was exploring these alleys, and every other nook and cranny of the Golden Triangle (which also happens to be, more or less, the Alliance’s neighborhood) as a volunteer with DC’s annual PIT Count. Still relatively new to the field and working on federal policy here at the Alliance, I don’t often venture over to the practice side of the field. I do, however, rely heavily on data and experiences gathered by practitioners every day to make the argument for increased funding for key federal homelessness programs. Last night was my opportunity to match each number with a face.
After more than three hours and more than 30 people counted (yes, that’s unfortunately more than one person for every square block I covered in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from the White House), I was beginning to sympathize with the challenges that every homeless person faces, but particularly those living on the streets. There were common themes: bureaucratic delays within departments like Veterans Affairs, long waits (years and years) for Section 8 or Public Housing, and a distinct lack of housing, affordable of otherwise, into which one might be placed. As Leroy, a man who made his home for the night in front of a Subway, noted to me, “I don’t need food kitchens or a place to shower, I need housing.”
It was frustrating for me, having these conversations with veterans, the elderly, parents disconnected from their children, and everyone else to know that the solutions are out there and the programs are, for the most part, in place. We just need the right resources and investments to take them to scale to assist people like those I met last night.
Before we departed for the Count, Scott Gould, the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, spoke briefly about the importance of conducting these count. Deputy Secretary Gould hit upon the crux of the issue by saying, “good data leads to good policy.” We couldn’t agree more! We think the staggering numbers of people experiencing homelessness in America speak for themselves. We know what needs to be done. Now, more than ever, is the time to make the right federal investments so that next year, or the year after that, I have a very boring, quiet night counting.
To everyone that has helped or will help conduct counts in your community this January: thank you. Our work here at the Alliance wouldn’t be possible without your efforts. But as we know, data collection is just the first step to addressing the problem. Now is our opportunity to take what we’ve seen and learned to Congress to make a national impact. Here in DC last night, we had it easy – walking around a beautiful city in unseasonably warm temperatures, ending the night at home in our beds. But people like Henry, Lana, and Leroy don’t have it so easy. Simply put: sequestration and balanced budgets shouldn’t keep them, or anyone else I met last night, on the streets any longer.
Join us in 2012 as we work with Congress and the Administration to improve the lives of these and others across the nation. Together, we can make the need for PIT Counts a thing of the past.