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D.C. area records lowest number of homeless residents since 2001, report finds

In the District, overall homelessness fell 5.5 percent since 2018, but rose 2.8 percent among single adults

A person sleeps outside in the District (2014)

Based on the results of an annual census taken during a single night in January, this year the D.C. region saw the fewest homeless residents it has seen since the census launched in 2001: 9,794 people, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)—a regional planning group consisting of local officials—announced earlier this month. This was the first time that, regionally, the number of people experiencing homelessness was less than 10,000.

It was also a 7 percent drop from the number recorded in the 2018 “Point-in-Time” count. Seven of nine D.C. area jurisdictions, including the District, observed decreases since last year, according to MWCOG. The District saw the greatest year-to-year decline in its number of homeless people, of 383 people, or 5.5 percent, followed by Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince William counties, of 193 and 97 people, respectively. Fairfax and Loudoun counties, in Virginia, witnessed year-to-year surges of 47 and 35 people, or increases of 5 and 26 percent.

2018 and 2019 counts of homeless residents by jurisdiction
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

“The longer-term trend is also positive, with the region recording a 16 percent decline, or 1,829 fewer people, experiencing homelessness over the last five years,” MWCOG said in a release last week. That includes a 12 percent decrease in family homelessness between 2018 and 2019, the third consecutive year that family homelessness has dropped across the region.

MWCOG’s report points to a variety of reasons behind the regional decline in homelessness, but also explains that high rents, limited incomes, and unreliable federal funding pose risks:

A combination of factors, including the region’s increased supply of permanent supportive housing, increased use of rapid re-housing, and homeless prevention and diversion efforts account for some other jurisdictions’ consistent declines in homelessness. Significant challenges remain, however. Increases in the region’s already-high rents make it very difficult for extremely low-income households to find or maintain housing that they can afford. A shortage of living wage jobs compounds the difficulty in finding and maintaining affordable housing. At the federal level, uncertainty about funding levels threatens housing programs of all types and constrains local jurisdictions’ ability to make dramatic progress in providing more permanent housing solutions.

In the District, 6,521 people were counted as homeless, whether single adults or in families, and whether in shelter, temporary housing, or outside. Family homelessness decreased 11.8 percent since 2018, helping to mark a 45.3 percent drop in family homelessness since 2016.

D.C. family homelessness counts since 2015
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

But homelessness among single (or unaccompanied) adults in D.C. ballooned 2.8 percent, to 3,875 people. This was on top of a 5 percent jump last year, though “chronic homelessness”—defined as when a person with a disability has either been continuously homeless for at least a year or had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years—fell 13.3 percent. There were 1,374 chronically homeless people in 2019; roughly one-in-four were unsheltered.

D.C. total homelessness counts since 2015
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

In a prepared statement, Kristy Greenwalt, the director of D.C.’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, said: “The need for assistance is growing ever greater among single adults, and we know we’ll have to double down on our efforts in the years ahead to see the type of progress we are seeing among families.” The point-in-time count was performed January 23. A little under 1 percent of the city’s population of 702,455 people were found to be homeless.