What’s In the Proposed Fiscal Year 2020 Budget for Homeless Services?


  • Adds the following for individuals:
    • $8.8 million for 325 new Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units and $420,000 for additional Targeted Affordable Housing units for individuals. This will not put DC on a path to ending homelessness in the next four years
  • Adds the following for families:
    • $6.3 million for 180 new PSH slots, fully meeting the need for PSH among families
    • $2 million for 80 new TAH slots. This is well below the number of families experiencing homelessness who need long-term housing help
    • $11 million for operating Short-Term Family Housing
  • Adds the following for youth:
    • $513,000 for 15 PSH spots, $975,000 for 30 RRH units, and $966,000 for 23 transitional beds. These amounts are below the recommended level in DC’s plan to end youth homelessness
  • Also includes:
    • $6.8 million for Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), a $600,000 cut
    • No dedicated funding for SOAR, which helps individuals secure federal disability benefits
    • No funding to create public bathrooms
    • No new funding for shelter for survivors of domestic violence
    • No funds to replace lost federal funds for street outreach to people with high needs

The proposed fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget provides the highest funding level ever for homeless services. This is a recognition of the enormity of this challenge and reflects new investments in the Strategic Plan to end long-term homelessness by 2020. The Strategic Plan, developed by the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), aims to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring.[1]

But the budget also falls far short of the needs outlined in the Strategic Plan. It provides permanent housing for 345 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness, when the need is over 1,900, which means the budget doesn’t put DC on a path to ending homelessness in the near future. The budget is notable in that provides permanent housing to all of the 180 families facing chronic homelessness, yet it provides very little help to families that are homeless primarily because they cannot afford DC’s high rents. The new services for youth also fall well below levels recommended in DC’s plan to end youth homelessness.

The budget provides substantial new funding to improve dilapidated shelters for individuals and to operate new short-term housing for families.

DC’s services for residents experiencing homelessness fall in four broad categories of services:

The Homeless Services Continuum for Families and Individuals

The District provides a variety of short-term and medium-term services for families and individuals experiencing homelessness. This includes shelter, the Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP), the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Rapid ReHousing (RRH), transitional housing, and other programs. (These programs are described in more detail below.) Many of these services are delivered by private providers, either under contract with the DC Department of Human Services or operate under the umbrella of The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP), an intermediary organization.

The Homeless Services Continuum for Youth

This includes family mediation, emergency shelter beds, transitional housing, Rapid ReHousing, Permanent Supportive Housing, and aftercare services which help youth maintain housing stability after exiting a program. Most of these services are delivered by private providers which either contract with DHS directly or operate under the umbrella of TCP.

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)

This program provides long-term housing and intensive case management to residents facing chronic homelessness who would otherwise have difficulty remaining housed. PSH helps people stay in housing and improve their health, which in turn saves a substantial amount of money. DC places some participants in apartments using rental subsidies, and others in buildings developed with District funding.[2]

Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH)

This provides long-term affordable housing for formerly homeless residents, with no or minimal supportive services. TAH helps residents who need help paying rent after their Rapid ReHousing ends or who no longer need the intensive services provided by PSH but still need help to afford housing.

Budget Takes Steps to End Chronic Homelessness but Falls Short of the Need

A large number of single adults in DC are chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been homeless for a long time and suffer from life-threatening health conditions and/or severe mental illness. Families can also experience chronic homelessness, but it is less common; among families facing homelessness, the main challenge is low income and the inability to afford DC rents. (See Budget Makes Investments in Family Housing Programs below.)

The proposed budget makes new investments towards ending chronic homelessness but falls far short of the estimated need (Figure 1). The budget also is well below the targets set by The Way Home campaign, an advocacy effort to end chronic homelessness in the District in the next four years.[3]

Figure 1.

The proposed budget includes $8.8 million in new funding to provide Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) to 325 individuals. This is just one-fifth of the estimated need of 1,644 slots, and it is just one-third of the target of 986 set by The Way Home campaign. The campaign is seeking to make rapid progress in expanding PSH because the individuals it serves are the most likely to die while homeless.

The proposed budget provides $421,000 for Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) for 20 individuals, far below the estimated need of 307 units and The Way Home campaign goal of 154 units.

The proposed budget for Rapid ReHousing (RRH) remains flat at nearly $6.2 million and will serve an estimated 440 people. RRH for individuals provides housing search assistance, supportive services, and short-term rental assistance, generally for 3 to 6 months. The program aims to move residents out of shelter as quickly as possible, which in turn allows more residents to access emergency shelter. While the Strategic Plan anticipated a need of 2,487 Rapid ReHousing slots, it now appears that more individuals facing homelessness need more help than the short-term aid provided through RRH provides. This means that the number of individuals who would be best served by RRH is likely to be smaller than estimated in the Strategic Plan. Additionally, the program has faced challenges connecting participants with quality jobs programs. It makes sense to work out these challenges before adding additional slots.

Budget Makes Investments in Family Programs, But Falls Short of Need

The proposed budget is notable because it provides enough funding to serve all families experiencing chronic homelessness—adding $6.3 million for 180 Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units for families.

The proposed budget includes $2 million for 80 additional Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) units. While the actual need is difficult to measure due to limited data, it is likely that the number of families experiencing homelessness who need long-term rental assistance is much larger. DCFPI recommends increasing funding to provide TAH to 500 families.

The proposed FY 2020 budget adds nearly $3 million for RRH, simply to keep up with increased program costs due to increasing rents. This brings the total RRH budget to $40.6 million. DC’s RRH program for families offers approximately 12 months of assistance, which is generally longer than for individuals.

Expanded Services for Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing Homelessness, But Less than the Full Need

Many youth who experience homelessness do so without their parents or guardians and do not have children of their own. These “unaccompanied” homeless youth fall into two broad categories: those under age 18 and those who are 18 to 24 years old. In DC, youth under age 18 can only access housing and shelter dedicated to this population. Older youth, often called transition-aged youth (TAY), can access both TAY programs and adult housing and shelter.

This budget includes $975,000 for 30 new RRH subsidies, bringing the total number of RRH slots to 66. This is far below the target of 264 units set by Solid Foundations DC, the comprehensive plan to end youth homelessness[4]. At the same time, youth stakeholders have expressed a desire to experiment with program design before making large increases to the program.

The budget adds $513,000 for 15 new PSH slots. This is far below the 40 added slots called for in Solid Foundations DC, and below the 50 new slots recommended by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA) based on input from youth and providers, given the number of highly vulnerable youth they identified.

The budget also adds $966,000 for 23 new transitional housing beds for youth. This is more than the 21 units recommended in Solid Foundations DC for FY 2020, but less than the 50 beds recommended by DCAYA, with input from youth and providers.

The budget does not include new shelter beds for TAY youth. Solid Foundations DC calls for 19 new beds, but this target was increased to 60 by DCAYA based on input from youth and providers and the numbers of homeless youth who do not have access to shelter.

The proposed budget maintains $400,000 from the FY 2019 budget to support services at the new 24-hour drop in center, as well as homelessness prevention and aftercare services. Aftercare provides individually tailored services to formerly homeless youth and their host family or friends to ensure that the housing placement is stable. These services can include conflict mediation and referrals to mental health and other services.

Finally, the budget does not include $250,000 for a pilot mentoring program, a need expressed by youth experiencing homelessness who provide input to the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Additional Funding for Operations of New Short-Term Family Housing

The proposed budget adds $11.2 million to support operations of the District’s new short-term family housing sites, 6 sites that are replacing the now-closed DC General Family Shelter and the Ward 1 Family Shelter which replaces apartment-style shelter units that recently closed. The Ward 1 Family Shelter will also include 15 units of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for seniors and make renovations to the Rita Bright Family and Youth Center which is adjacent to the new shelter.

Funding to Improve Shelters for Individuals

The proposed budget includes a number of investments to improve conditions at dilapidated shelters for singles.

It includes $30.1 million to build a 200-bed replacement for the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter. This shelter will be moved to a new site on the DC General campus where the current shelter is located.

The budget adds $3 million to the $8.5 million allocated in last year’s budget for renovations at the New York Avenue Men’s Shelter. These renovations will include the creation of space for daytime programs and a health clinic.

The budget adds $3 million to the $13 million currently allocated to make critical repairs at Emery and Blair Men’s Shelters, including renovating existing bathrooms and replacing ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The budget also includes $4.5 million to make improvements at other shelters and a District file storage facility.

The budget adds $8 million to the $40 million allocated to replacing the 801 East Men’s Shelter. This shelter will be moved to a new site on the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital campus to make way for a new hospital.

The budget also includes $870,000 for security enhancements at the Federal City Shelter, also known as the CCNV Shelter. This funding will be used to install cameras, flood lights, and security systems. It will also be used to hire contract security staff.

No New Funding for Shelters and Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Funding for shelter and services for survivors of domestic violence is housed in both the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants (OVSJG). The FY 2020 budget doesn’t include any additional dedicated funding for survivors of domestic violence, even though domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness. The DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence (DCCADV) is calling for an investment of $3 million for emergency/crisis housing and $1 million for a Mobile Advocacy Program that provides case management wherever a survivor is—in a mainstream homelessness program, with friends or family, or on their own. These investments should be made in OVSJG and granted out to domestic violence service providers.

Cut to Emergency Rental Assistance

The proposed FY 2020 budget for emergency rental assistance is nearly $6.8 million and removes $624,029 of one-time funds added to the FY 2019 budget. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) helps residents facing eviction pay for overdue rent and related legal costs. The program also provides security deposits and first month’s rent for residents moving into new homes.

Increased Funds for Homelessness Prevention

The budget adds $875,000 to Project Reconnect, a program that helps individuals who are newly homeless find alternatives to shelter such as reuniting with friends and families. This will double the program’s budget and will allow the program to serve 1,000 people, twice as many as in 2019.

The proposed budget adds $798,000 to expand the Homeless Prevention Program (HPP) to 266 additional families. HPP works to prevent a family at imminent risk of losing housing from becoming homeless through the provision of stabilizing services and resources.

Budget Doesn’t Replace Expiring Federal Funds for Street Outreach

Over the past three years, DC nearly doubled its street outreach to individuals experiencing homelessness and living outside, primarily funded through a federal grant. Outreach services primarily target hard-to-reach individuals who do not seek shelter or other homeless services. Outreach workers help these individuals to apply for housing and gain necessary documentation. They also help them connect with vital services like mental and physical healthcare. This federal grant expires before the end of FY 2019, and the proposed budget provides no funds to replace it. An estimated $3.5 million in new local funds is needed to support a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustainably funded Street Outreach Network.

No Funding for Public Restrooms

DC has only three public restrooms that are open 24 hours. This leaves many residents, particularly residents experiencing homelessness, with no place to go. DC recently passed legislation that will increase access to public restrooms,[5] but the budget provides no funding for it to go into effect. The Council should invest $336,000 in FY 2020 to pilot two 24-hour standalone public restrooms in high-traffic neighborhoods and to offer incentives to businesses to open their bathrooms to the public.

No New Funding to Help Residents Apply for Disability Benefits SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR)

The SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery program (SOAR) helps individuals who have a serious mental illness, medical impairment, and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder secure federal disability benefits. Because the application process is difficult to navigate, only 14 percent of these individuals are approved on initial application for these benefits. Using the SOAR model, DC has been able to help 73 percent of these individuals secure benefits on this initial application.

In FY 2019, the Department of Human Services found one-time funding to expand SOAR. There is no dedicated funding to continue this expansion in FY 2020.

Stipends for ICH Consumer Work Group Members

The proposed FY 2020 budget will include $21,600 for stipends for residents who have or are currently experiencing homelessness and are members of the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Consumer Work Group.[6] Members will receive $50 for every ICH meeting they attend to compensate for their time and expertise, as well as to support travel expenses incurred to attend meetings.

[1] Homeward DC Strategic Plan to 2015-2020

[2] The proposed budget retains the $3 million in recurring funding put in the FY 2016 budget to provide supportive services for the built PSH units coming online. It is difficult to predict when these units will come online as construction can be unpredictable. DHS is confident the $3 million will be sufficient to cover the units already occupied as well as the new units that will come online in FY 2019.

[3] The Way Home DC

[4] Solid Foundations DC Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness. May 2017

[5] Kate Coventry, The Mayor and Council Should Fund Public Restrooms in the Budget. DC Fiscal Policy Institute, March 7, 2019.

[6] The funding for stipends was not included in the proposed budget but will be included in the Budget Errata, the list of corrections made to the budget after its release by the Mayor’s Budget Office.

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