The DC deputy mayor charged with overseeing coordination between DC agencies that work on homelessness and behavioral health said in July that the District was creating a communication portal that apartment landlords and residents could use to request services for disruptive tenants.
Wayne Turnage and a staff member suggested at the July 19th ANC 3F meeting that the portal was a week or two from launch. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services has not responded to our request for confirmation that the portal has since been activated, and some Ward 3 tenants advocates tell us they’ve heard nothing further about the portal since that meeting.
The portal, Turnage explained, would be a place where “residents and landlords can immediately send to my team complaints about existing problems in virtually in real time. We then will use that information to get the appropriate agency out to the site to see if the issue can be addressed.”
Turnage and his staffer, Ciana Creighton, stressed that the portal would not replace 911 calls for emergencies. However, it was not clear how the portal would differ from DC’s two behavioral health hotlines for reporting crisis situations involving people with mental health and addiction issues.
Turnage did not critique the District’s crisis response, as Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Chris Geldart did at another ANC 3F meeting. In April, Geldart said the rental housing vouchers system, as currently administered, was not working due to a mismatch of services promised and services provided to recipients in need of aid beyond rent assistance. Turnage instead spoke of a “perception” among residents that “the city’s response is not timely enough or not sufficient to remediate the problem.” But like Geldart, Turnage had been meeting with landlords of apartment buildings that had been dealing with “a small number [of]… impactfully disruptive residents who sometimes struggle with the adjustment to housing.”
The portal was described as a short-term solution. In the long term, Turnage said his office was working with the mayor and city administrator on developing a new housing model, in which drug addiction and mental health services would be provided on site, 24/7. Such housing would create economies of scale, he said, and make it easier to provide services quickly. He also commented on the difficulty of serving clients “scattered” in housing around the District “when somebody spirals downward at three o’clock in the morning, in a building that is not completely voucher-based and there is… no case manager immediately available.”
Turnage’s landlord meetings included DARO, the owner of Sedgwick Gardens, which beginning in 2018 was in the news for violent incidents involving a few residents. Carren Kaston, the president of the Sedgwick Gardens Tenants Association, told Turnage that when building managers would call for behavioral health crisis services, help would not arrive for hours. She also said people being disorderly or threatening would sometimes refuse aid once offered. Turnage acknowledged that these were tough issues with no easy answers.
“The response will depend on the nature of the problem,” Turnage said, “and these are often very, very complex problems.”