FOR YEARS, Dee Curry thrived in her job as a community-based outreach specialist, coordinating and connecting local residents to Washington, D.C.’s health services. “I never intended to become homeless,” Curry said. “My job meant everything to me. But, being empowered as a transgender woman, I encountered a lot of adversity and eventually suffered burnout.”
That burnout led to substance abuse, then incarceration, then homelessness. By the time she arrived at a hospital six years ago, Curry was suicidal. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she had been flitting between different places for temporary shelter. “People were not good to me. I was mistrustful of everyone,” she said.
The hospital psychiatrist finally persuaded Curry to contact Pathways to Housing DC, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that implements the Housing First model among those with severe mental illness. Housing First offers the most vulnerable, chronically homeless people permanent housing and the supportive services to address mental and physical health, substance abuse, employment, education, and family reunification so that people can get back on their feet. Other models to alleviate homelessness may require program participants to be sober or eligible for employment in order to qualify for housing. The Housing First model reverses this logic.
“We provide housing first because we made a commitment to listen to the people we serve. We asked them what they wanted and needed. They almost always said ‘I need the housing, first, before I can work on other issues,” said Pathways to Housing DC executive director Christy Respress.