In late May of 2020, and again in September, PFFC received awards of $5,000 and $10,000, respectively, from the Diverse City Fund through its COVID-19 Rapid Response Program. In both cases PFFC chose to focus its efforts on providing outreach to individuals experiencing homelessness living in encampments, both delivering needed goods to help residents steel themselves against COVID-19 and in reaching out to encampment residents to connect them with needed services. Along the way PFFC has also received three $1,000 donations from Serve Your City to assist in this endeavor.
The September grant expanded the focus of our efforts to identifying returning citizens living in encampments, linking them to needed services, and increasing their voice in actions being taken by the DC government to assist returning citizens.
As of October 30, with the assistance of the Ward 2 and Ward 6 Mutual Aid Networks our COVID-19 Outreach team, visits 200 encampment residents weekly.. Three quarters (75%) are men; 25% are women. Approximately 30% are seniors. We estimate that nearly one half are returning citizens.
We are pleasantly surprised and gratified to have the enthusiastic support not only of the Ward 2 and Ward 6 Mutual Aid Networks, but organizations such as Serve Your City which provides us with small amounts of funding and whose members accompany us on our weekly rounds. We are also accompanied by a growing number of enthusiastic volunteers including high school students and members of nearby ANCs.
In addition to distributing supplies, we have distributed information to encampment residents on how and where to seek mental health services, and we are in the process of providing encampment residents with information on the Vacant to Virus (V2VR) Initiative, which we are actively involved in, whose objective is to find housing in DC’s many vacant apartments for individuals at risk of getting COVID-19.
Little by little, through our weekly contact with encampment residents, we are gaining their confidence and trust – both needed in order for us to be able to help connect them with needed housing, health, mental health, and job opportunities. We are finding, especially in our outreach to returning citizens (many of whom have been traumatized by their experiences before, during, and following their incarceration) that this is a slow process requiring multiple contacts and a great deal of patience.
COVID-19, as we are learning, will be with us for a long time – certainly through this coming winter and beyond, with every indication that COVID-19 incidence and deaths will continue to rise. In keeping with estimates from the DC Department of Human Services, we are seeing more and more tents popping up in the encampments that we are visiting as well as new locations within Wards 2 and 6. As the weather becomes colder, encampment residents will continue to need the support that we and others are providing them. And there will be additional needs, including for blankets and warm clothing. We estimate that our funds from the second DCF grant will be used up by end of December.
PFFC has applied to DCF for its 2020 Fall Grant Round requesting the maximum amount to be awarded of $5,000 hoping that with these funds we can continue the work we are carrying out under our ongoing grant.
An additional $5,000 will permit us to continue supporting encampments in Wards 2 and 6 for an additional seven weeks – from January 1 through the third week of February 2021 which will give us time to look for further funding to permit us to go beyond mid-February.
During this period we will:
- Continue, with the additional support of the Ward 2 and Ward 6 Mutual Aid Networks, purchasing and distribute needed supplies to approximately 200 encampment residents
- Seek cash and in-kind donations from other organizations in order to ensure that encampment residents have the blankets and warm clothing they will need to survive this coming winter.
- Seek out and develop partnerships with organizations in the District that provide services to returning citizens with the hope that, as we gain increasing trust with returning citizens living in encampments that we can link them with services provided by these organizations.
- As we gain trust with encampment residents who aren’t returned citizens, also link them with needed services, with a focus on housing.
- Continue to build trust among encampment residents, and returning citizens in particular, and as we do assist them to raise their voices to demand the assistance that they and other individuals experiencing homeless in the District need.