BY the end of the month, federal and local officials plan to
open two new 24-hour drop-in centers with showers, lockers, free
laundry machines, and coffee in downtown Washington neighborhoods.
The centers are intended as recruiting posts to draw the
"treatment resistant" homeless into social services. This is the
first step in a plan that Clinton administration officials hope may
become a new national approach to homelessness - an approach that
requires the homeless to actively participate in efforts to bring
more stability to their lives.
The government is proposing a social contract: revamped services
and facilities in exchange for an agreement to participate in job
counseling, mental health, or rehabilitation programs necessary to
address the root causes of their homelessness.
The District of Columbia is serving as the testing ground for
the pilot program. The Department of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD), the government agency that oversees most federal homeless
programs, has pledged $20 million to the program over the next
"We're saying that we'll do a better job of addressing your
needs, but you'll be expected to respond to that. If you don't
participate in your own development, the social contract says,
`We're very sorry, but we have to move on to someone else,' " says
Vincent Gray, director of the District's Department of Health and
Human Services and chairman of the city's Interagency Homeless
The prevalence of homeless who remain outside the system despite
available services hit home last week when a woman died on a bench
across the street from HUD headquarters. Yetta Adams, coping with
mental illness and alcoholism, had repeatedly spurned the services
of social workers, doctors, and shelters.
This incident helped spur HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros to
advance the city several hundred thousand dollars from the $20
million fund for aggressive outreach to get the homeless out of the
cold this winter. HUD had planned not to distribute the money until
the District created a new agency to oversee the initiative.
The new strategy marks a recognition that past emergency
approaches "have not worked, cannot be reformed, are inherently
flawed, and must be replaced," according to an outline published
jointly by HUD and the District government. Federal spending for
the homeless has increased from $400 million in 1988 to more than
$1 billion in 1992 and 1993, but it has been largely ineffective,
Mr. Gray says.
The government is enlisting the help of nonprofit organizations
and even District police for the new program. Community police will
be trained with the nonprofits and help to encourage the homeless
to check in to assessment centers, where case workers can pinpoint
unmet needs that may be keeping homeless from locating and
remaining in housing.
Initiative organizers estimate that three-quarters of homeless
single adults and 20 percent of homeless families have "special
needs" and could benefit from mental-health treatment and
counseling. The remaining, with short-term needs, will have greater
access to job training and increased opportunities for affordable
housing. The initiative also includes provisions for a computer
network to identify families at risk of being evicted.
Gray says treatment is the first step in breaking the cycle of
poverty. "I just don't think there are simplistic answers to what
causes homelessness. …