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About OAH

About OAH

Our building, The Dunbar, is home to 16 women who were formerly homeless with histories of mental health issues, trauma, chronic poverty, and unstable relationships. The women who live at The Dunbar have been without exception on the streets or in shelters for extended periods, and the Dunbar was designed to offer a safe and inviting home in a caring, supportive community.

OAH offers each woman a safe, secure, private space. She has time to acclimate herself to a setting which ensures privacy, but also invites social interaction. Each woman has her own efficiency apartment with a full kitchen and bathroom. The building has three wheelchair accessible units, and each floor has a community room with shared phones, television, computers, and space for gatherings.

Our approach expands client choice. Supportive services are offered to all residents, who can choose to participate on a continuum, from low to high participation. Supportive services are tailored to meet individuals’ needs and are aimed to maximize resources, benefits, and outside activities. While OAH does not require its residents to engage in treatment, the staff encourages them and makes every effort to make them aware of what is available and how treatment can help.

Mission

The Mission of Open Arms Housing, Inc. is to provide permanent homes with a welcoming and supportive environment to women who are homeless with a variety of mental health issues. Our goal is to create safe, comfortable housing tailored to meet individual needs and to promote housing stability, using a Housing First approach.

History

Open Arms Housing (OAH) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in 1997, governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. OAH is dedicated to providing housing for women who have previously been overlooked by current housing programs and services for homeless. OAH was established by a group of social services providers and advocates who recognized that existing housing programs did not work for some of the most vulnerable, street-bound homeless women. The concept emerged as service providers – seeking resources for women with a history of chronic homelessness – identified a significant gap in the housing continuum. The OAH model rests on the premise that housing is therapy, and that stable, safe housing is necessary to promote the physical, mental and emotional well-being of all persons, particularly women suffering from chronic mental illness.

The Dunbar – OAH began work on renovating our first property, The Dunbar, at 57 O Street NW, in the summer of 2008. This property has 16 units which will permanently house our residents. The start of work on the prperty was celebrated in the Fall of 2008 with a ground breaking ceremony with DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. The event allowed our friends and supporters to see the The Dunbar in its “before” condition.

Attendees at  our ribbon-cutting in June 2009 heard presentations by Mayor Vincent Gray, Nan Roman of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, David Bowers from Enterprise Community Partners, Patti Kane from Home Builders Care of the National Capital Area and Tommy Wells.

OAH operates under a housing first approach which holds that all individuals are entitled to safe and decent housing and that their access to this housing should not be contingent upon their participation in services.  Those services can com later, but housing is first.

OAH received significant financing support from the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in the form of a permanent loan, and a grant jointly from DHCD and the DC Department of Behavorial Health. Important early commitment from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development through a supportive hosuing program grant to the DC Community Partnership to End Homelessness was instrumental in carrying OAH through its eight-year development period. Our success also hinged on private lenders’ willingness to participate, through an acquisition loan from the Unitarian Universalistic housing fund (now Open Door Housing Fund), pre-development and construction funds from Cornerstone Inc., and construction loans from Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Enterprise Community Partners. Ongoing support through the DC Housing Authority’s Local Rent Supplement Program is essential to enable residents with little or no income to afford to live in a newly renovated facility.