D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Department of Human Services (DHS) released last week the result of the annual count of homelessness in the city, which showed a decline from last year.
The Point-in-Time count, which tallied the number of people experiencing homelessness on Jan. 25, indicated a reduction in the number of individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness in the District.
On the night of the count, there were 7,473 people who were experiencing homelessness in the nation’s capital including 5,363 in emergency shelter, 1,213 in transitional housing and 897 without any shelter.
Compared to 2016, this year’s count showed a 21.8 percent reduction in the number of families experiencing homelessness, a 2.7 percent reduction in unaccompanied individuals and a 10.5 percent reduction in the overall number of persons experiencing homelessness.
The count, which provides a snapshot of the number of people experiencing homelessness in D.C. and their demographic characteristics, is a requirement of all jurisdictions receiving federal funds to address homelessness.
“We know that it is possible to end homelessness in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser in a statement. “These results show that our efforts to prevent homelessness and connect more residents to safe and affordable shelter are paying off. We still have more to do, but we have made significant progress over the past two years, and we will continue this work until every DC resident has a safe place to call home.”
Bowser often touts that her administration has invested more in affordable housing than any other jurisdiction in the country.
“Since taking office, [Bowser] has launched new homeless prevention services which have prevented a shelter stay for almost 3,000 families and increased investments in permanent housing programs by nearly 60 percent, developed interim eligibility to provide immediate shelter for families in urgent need, helped more than 2,700 families avoid homeless services system altogether and connected more than 1,800 veterans to permanent housing,” said a statement from her office.
Last year, the city has committed more than $106 million to construction and preservation of more than 1,200 housing units.
In 2015, the administration released Homeward D.C., a plan to make homelessness in the city “rare, brief and non-recurring.”
The current budget allocates nearly $560 million budget to DHS for the upcoming fiscal year, including nearly $50 million for capital projects over the next six years to include completion of D.C. General, short-term shelter replacements in each ward of the city, temporary housing and modernizations and renovations to existing agency spaces.
But some experts have said that the budget does not allow for enough resources to seriously tackle the city’s homeless problem.
Kate Coventry, a policy analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, noted while testifying at a Human Services Committee budget oversight hearing earlier this month that though the investments toward homelessness were substantial, they fell short of the needs of plans to end homelessness.
“Without greater funding, far too many residents will remain homeless,” she said. “For some, it may mean a life cut short. For others, it means lack in the stability needed to make progress in their education and employment.”
Coventry said though the investments fully fund family shelters, they also decreased the number of available slots for services such as permanent supportive housing. She said the current budget only meets 30 percent of the need to end homelessness outlined in the 2015 Homeward D.C. and would require $24.2 million in additional investments.
DHS Director Laura Zeilinger said though the department could use more resources, it is seeing positive trends in its efforts to end homelessness.
“We are so grateful for Mayor Bowser’s leadership and all of the partners who have come to the table to help us prevent and end homelessness,” Zeilinger said. “We are working every day to ensure each District resident experiencing homelessness has been offered the housing resources and supportive services they need.”