A squatter’s camp near Union Station in D.C. (Brigette White/The Washington Informer)
A squatter’s camp near Union Station in D.C. (Brigette White/The Washington Informer)

For the second year in a row, the number of homeless people in the District declined, though it remained higher than it was five years ago, according to the results of an annual federally-mandated count released last week.

The survey found 6,904 homeless people in D.C., which represented a 7.6 percent drop from 2017 where 7,473 homeless people were counted, and a 17.3 percent drop from the 2016 count. The number, however, remains higher than the 2013 total of 6,865.

In the region, the total number of homeless individuals counted was 10,480. That figure represents a decrease of more than 6 percent in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the area.

“It’s encouraging that we are continuing to make progress, but we clearly have more work to do as a region, said Matt Letourneau, Loudoun County supervisor and board chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Coalition of Governments.

Five of nine participating jurisdictions in the metro area saw a decrease in the number of persons experiencing homelessness from 2017 to 2018. The other four jurisdictions saw minor increases over the same period.

The District had the greatest reduction in homelessness recorded from 2017 to 2018 with 569 fewer homeless individuals, followed by Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties both having 54 fewer individuals counted in each county. Prince George’s county saw the largest reduction in the percentage rate of those experiencing homelessness between the 2017 and 2018 counts, with a 10 percent decrease.

The largest increase in persons counted was in Fairfax County with 23 individuals more individuals than last year, while Frederick County experienced the largest percentage increase with a 19 percent jump.

Eight of nine jurisdictions in the area experienced a decline in the number of person experiencing homelessness between the 2014 and 2018 counts.

In the District, there was a net decrease in the overall number of unsheltered people in the city, especially in family homelessness which decreased by 20.8 percent since last year, and by nearly 40 percent since the 2016 point-in-time count. However, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness increased by 5.2 percent.

“We know what it takes to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, and the investments and reforms we have made over the past three years are producing meaningful outcomes for families,” said Laura Zeilinger, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services.

Zeilinger said the department has made reforms to create “low-barriers” to housing assistance by providing social services and financial aid to prevent the need for shelter stays. She accounted the increase in unaccompanied adults in the city to more people entering the city’s system from surrounding areas.

She said while the city continues to work with its regional neighbors, its priority in the meantime is to address the issues of those entering the system without regard for where they are from.

“The mayor’s fiscal 2019 budget makes the investments needed to continue our progress with an increased prioritization of unaccompanied adults,” Zeilinger said.

The upcoming budget includes $23 million in new investments to the Bowser’s administration’s long-term comprehensive plan to combat homelessness, Homeward D.C. The plan includes $40 million for the construction of a new 801 East emergency and temporary housing program for men and $9.5 million to provide permanent supportive housing and other services to single homeless adults.

“We need to be able to provide residents with services regardless of where they are in the region,” said D.C. Council member Robert White, who is vice chairman on the Coalition of Governments board. “We have to figure out a way to work collectively to assist those homeless persons crossing through our jurisdictions.”

Overall, the number of formerly homeless people now living in some form of permanent housing increased by 14 percent to nearly 22,000 people across the region.

In D.C., the number of homeless veterans increased by 8 percent. But the increase may be part of a larger national trend as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that the nation saw an increase last year for the first time in seven years. But, even despite the one-year increase, the region reduced veteran homelessness by 25 percent.

The annual homeless count is conducted mainly by volunteers on a night in January, so the results may vary based on factors such as weather

Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her...

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