County Officials, Advocates Gather to Remember Lives of Homeless Residents

County Officials, Advocates Gather to Remember Lives of Homeless Residents

Memorial service in Rockville offered an opportunity to reflect and rededicate efforts on homeless prevention

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Community members who were homeless or received homeless prevention services were remembered at a memorial service in Rockville on Wednesday morning.
DANIELLE E. GAINES

The names of community members who died over the past year echoed off the walls of county buildings in Rockville on Wednesday morning, mixing with the buzz of morning traffic.

Dozens of people gathered in the plaza off Monroe Street to remember 27 community members who died in 2017 and were homeless or had been helped by the county’s homeless prevention programs.

“We’re here to make the point that they were people. They had names. There were other people that cared about them. And Montgomery County cares about them,” County Council member George Leventhal said.

While somber, the memorial service also represented an occasion to reflect on the county’s efforts to end homelessness.

A woman identified only as Christine shared her story, as the recipient of emergency and transitional housing services in 2016 after she lost her job and then her apartment. When she and her daughter arrived at their new apartment after help from county agencies, “I felt the depression lift,” Christine said. “… I have deep peace and joy inside me [now].”

Amanda J. Harris, chief of the Services to End and Prevent Homelessness at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the county is reaching goals. In December 2015, the county achieved “functional zero” in its effort to end veteran homelessness, and through the Inside (Not Outside) initiative, it has made a serious dent in ending long-term homelessness for people with disabilities.

The county has a goal of ending long-term homelessness altogether.

Since January 2016, agencies in the county have placed 385 people in permanent housing; 150 of them in the last six months, Harris said.

“We are ending homelessness. This is not an intractable problem, but one that can be solved with empathy for the plight of our neighbors, grit and perseverance, and finally, a sense of urgency. People are dying and the time to act is now.”

More than one speaker took a moment to thank Leventhal for his efforts in public office to shine a light on the issue of homelessness. Joining Leventhal were Council members Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz and Craig Rice.

While Leventhal is a leader in county government on the issue, he said votes with his colleagues on homeless issues were never controversial. And he’s confident that homeless prevention and support services will continue to attract champions in county government after the next election.

“We’re a wealthy and generous and compassionate county, but there’s a lot of people who are suffering here every day,” Leventhal said. “And I do believe that as we move forward under new leadership, we will continue to look out for those who most need a government on their side.”

Also at the Wednesday event, the county announced a new effort to end homelessness for families with children by 2020.

The @HomeTogether plan is spearheaded by the Interagency Commission on Ending Homelessness.

Clarence J. Snuggs, director of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the program will aim to engage families earlier, as soon as they run the risk of homelessness, and offer programs such as rental assistance and better integration between public services for families in emergency shelters.

Snuggs said the county’s goal is to make sure that all instances of homelessness are rare, brief and nonrecurring.

In the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ annual Point-in-Time survey conducted in January 2018, there were 840 individuals experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County and 85 families with children.

More information about county homelessness programs is online at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/homelessness.

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