No Place Like Home

Thousands Expected for Homeless Walkathon

Tens of thousands of local residents are expected to turn out tomorrow for the 21st annual Help the Homeless Walkathon on the National Mall, sponsored by the Fannie Mae Foundation.

Registration opens at 7 a.m., and pre-Walkathon programs begin at 8:30 a.m. The actual walk begins at 9 a.m. On-site registration is $15 for those 25 and younger and $30 for adults at 12th and 14th Streets on the Department of Agriculture lawn.

Since the program was created more than 20 years ago to aid the growing number of homeless people in the D.C. metropolitan area, the Fannie Mae Foundation has raised $69.5 million to address the issue through area nonprofits.

The problem is especially acute in the D.C. area, exacerbated by the current economic crisis and the 7 percent unemployment rate for the area alone, which was recorded by the U.S. Department of Labor in September. The national unemployment rate for October was at a high of 6.5 percent. For many in the region, the average fair market rent of $1,100 monthly for a one-bedroom apartment is out of reach.

According to the Fannie Mae Foundation, nearly 12,000 people in the D.C. metropolitan area are homeless this year alone. This number includes people who live on the streets, stay in various homeless shelters or live in transitional housing. Families comprise nearly 50 percent of the homeless. A quarter of them are children, according to Fannie Mae.

While some are without jobs due to the shrinking market, others are not able to work because of physical and mental disabilities. People with disabilities face extra hurdles in gaining employment and building careers that provide good incomes. Similarly, single mothers, especially those without adequate education and work experience, also find it difficult to afford good housing.

“I was a single parent of two and pregnant with one and just evicted from my apartment, so I did not have anywhere to go,” said Maripa Ramos, a single mother who sought aid from the program.

Single mothers are facing a major problem as they are not able to provide for themselves and their children. Providing food, shelter and child care can be hard for one person to do alone.

“I was looking for something to get me back on my feet,” Ramos said. Through the Help the Homeless Program, she was given temporary housing and directed to a full-time job.

According to the Fannie Mae Foundation, more than 4,000 residents gained permanent affordable housing.

Homelessness can scar the memories of all of those who live through it, and that is why the Help the Homeless Foundation offers services such as employment training, substance abuse recovery programs and mental health assistance.

“It’s nothing like being assisted when you’re at your lowest point by people you don’t know,” said Charles, a formerly homeless man who turned to the Help the Homeless Program for assistance. “They take you at your lowest point, and you really have to trust that process.”