Many More People Homeless In the DC Area

Two homeless count reports for the Washington, D.C. metro area have been issued since I wrote this posting. My review of the 2010 figures for the District of Columbia is here. Preliminary 2011 figures for the District are here.

The final report on the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area’s 2009 homeless count is out. As I’ve said before, the count doesn’t begin to include all the individuals and families who don’t have a place of their own to live. But it still provides important insights.

Not surprisingly the percentage of officially homeless people in the region has increased. It’s up by 2.4% since last year and 5.4% since 2006. In the District, the percentage increase is 3% since last year and 3.4% since 2006. Percentage increases in some surrounding jurisdictions are much greater.

However, the total number of homeless people in D.C. is by far and away the greatest, accounting for nearly 52% of the region’s total. The District also accounts for more than a quarter of the individuals  counted who were without any shelter and for more than two-thirds of the chronically homeless people counted.

The percentage of D.C. homeless people not with family members decreased by 6.5% since 2008. However, the percentage of homeless families increased by 19.8% and the percentage of homeless children by 24.1%. That’s 703 families, including 868 adults and 1,426 children.

The District’s report asserts that “the city continues to make great strides toward meeting the goals of Homeless No More–the former mayor’s plan to end homelessness by 2014. I find such cheeriness astonishing. We’re looking here at a total of 6,228 homeless people–7.6% more than in 2007!

The District touts the increase in the number of people in permanent supportive housing and, more particularly, its Housing First initiative. Permanent supportive housing, it says, is the solution to homelessness” [emphasis added]. But is it?

The District reports that, by the end of 2008, it was housing 400 individuals who were formerly in shelters or on the streets. It says it will house an unspecified number more, plus 80 families in 2009. That’s a far cry from ending homelessness, even for the chronic population.

True, far more formerly homeless people are in permanent supportive housing provided by nonprofit organizations. I doubt we’ll see any “great strides” here under the Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

And what about all the people who aren’t homeless because of a chronic disabling condition that calls for “wrap-around” supportive services? Those who are homeless because:

  • They can’t find a job that pays a living wage due to lack of a decent education, marketable job skills and/or affordable child care.
  • They were discharged from prison with no plan to help them find housing or employment.
  • Their benefits are far too low–a likely cause considering that half of the adults in families counted as homeless rely principally on TANF.
  • Housing is so darn expensive here and the waiting list for housing vouchers so very long.

Homelessness is a complex problem. The first thing we need to do is acknowledge that–and the fact that we’re not on track to ending it, let alone by 2014.

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9 Responses to Many More People Homeless In the DC Area

  1. H Espinosa says:

    Such a concise report on the homeless count. As an active participant of the count for the last two years and an outreach worker here in DC you raise some really strong concerns about the future of those at risk for becoming chronically homeless.

    I would like to echo those concerns for people who are genuinely trying but not able to make ends meet and also for those who are just often left without knowing how to utilize the system.

    The invisible homeless within the city, those couch surfing with family only staying at shelters here and there, are also in need of services and a safe space of their own. I am always interested in when we will shine a light on this issue through the census…

  2. Diane Nilan says:

    Thanks for putting the numbers to this soaring crisis.

    What is most disturbing is the continuation of prevalent myth that individuals with long histories of homelessness, connected to the disabling diseases they have,i.e. the “chronics,” as HUD has disparagingly dubbed them, are “THE homeless.” They are probably about 10% of the population.

    Shameful skyrocketing numbers of homeless families and teens on their own unable to access emergency housing and/or services are ignored.

    Congress seems for the most part clueless. HR 29 stands ready to expand the definition of homelessness to include the families/youth who hop from couch to couch and/or motels, relying on a patchwork quilt of fragile arrangements to keep a roof over the head.

    My question: if we don’t begin to substantially address the broad homeless population now, do people think it will be cheaper later?

    For more info, http://www.hearus.us/compassion-epidemic/hot-alert.html

  3. kathrynbaer says:

    Thanks for adding your insights, Diane. As you know, I share your concern about the near-exclusive focus on the “chronics” (horrible term!).

    I doubt that policymakers think it will be cheaper to address the problems of the much broader homeless population later. I fear they’re not thinking about addressing them at all. However, the cost of addressing the problems is surely a factor. Another that I think is probably very important is the sheer complexity of the problems and their inter-relationships. Our government is not good at developing complex solutions—especially those that cut across bureaucratic lines and/or the jurisdictions of legislative committees.

    I’m coming to think that the concept of chronic homelessness is also a factor. Specifically, it implies that homelessness is an individual pathology. So long as this is the view, we will not have a focus on systemic issues like the deplorable conditions in some of our public schools, benefits that no one can live on, policies that deplete the stock of affordable housing, etc.

  4. Susan Echo says:

    Kathryn, Thanks for all your contributions. On a wider perspective, why is it that people have romantisized about the quote unquote Great Depression since the post-WWII era, for decades, and now there is a great “disconnect” that anything happening now could be parallel to then? My depression-era dad asked me last night, “are there any signs of the bad economy and recession out there” [here in Bldr, he's from rural MO] and I Know he wouldn’t have made a connection between my 5 months of homelessness, loss of job, loss of real estate, illness not helped by paid-for insurance benefits because of economically-driven “technicalities” and more. It’s the great “disconnect.” Steinbeck? Grapes of Wrath? People starving? Homeless friends committing suicide, getting beat up by groups of young thugs, dying of frostbite camping in the foothills, epileptics not getting meds, rules not allowing them to sleep in parks at night, only during the day, men and women who wear out shoes from so walking to the 4 corners of the city to get free food at different distant places, different times of day in a maddening “game” of get it here, no here, no here, no here, and keep guessing where the food is going to be next. Much less bus tokens. Library of Congress? Smithsonian? Hollywood? No. It’s being lucky if you have a 2 dollar can-opener. There are no trains or hobos. You cannot sleep in the Natl. Forest w/o a permit. Walk through a posh neighborhood to get somewhere, even a park? Shadowed by squad cars…. If you carry bags, have no car or carry a backpack, and have any five o’clock shadow, you’re suspect. Unless you have something green in your wallet maybe. Maybe. And talk about working up an appetite when you spend your day trying to get food is disperate corners! I once ate 3 huge sandwiches and gulped a gallon of milk, I was so hungry. After walking 5+ miles and being thrown food from the back of a truck by a man who didn’t make eye contact. A church person walks by where the soup kitchen is, I ask “do you have an extra dollar for bus fare.” [Dirty look, finger points to soup kitchen. How dare you ask a parishioner who tithes!] That’s just the tip of the iceberg. To be continued. Oh, email friends that you’re hungry and thirsty. Response: Call 911! or silence or angry replies. What do you do? They’ll have a feast at the church after a memorial service, and the grieving family will get casseroles all week. But feed a person who cries for food? Bring them a bowl of left-over home-made soup? Never on your life! Beg your friends for expired canned goods and stale crackers, and they say, why do you mean? We won’t do that! We’ll give you fresh. (and it never comes….) Or they give you a 50 dollar groc store gift card, and after that never return your calls. Later….

  5. [...] Supportive Housing is the solution to homelessness” [emphasis added]. I’ve expressed doubts about this [...]

  6. Alfred Coleman says:

    I’m looking for data for the 2011 year. can you forward me an up date on homelessness in DC.It is sad when children have to suffer.I look for to seeing our elected officials do something.

  7. Kathryn Baer says:

    Data for 2011 aren’t available yet, Alfred. The official report on the annual homeless persons count is usually issued in early May. I expect to report on it, as I have in the past.

    I too look forward to seeing our elected officials address the homelessness problem. As I’ve written before, the homeless services program doesn’t have enough funds to provide shelter for all families that need it — even those who have no place at all to stay. The best thing we can do now is write Mayor Gray and DC Councilmembers and tell them we want the program more adequately funded.

  8. [...] trips to local farms, and one-on-one nutrition consultations came out of this initiative as well. ~Kathryn Baer let us know about a report published last week by the Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee of [...]

  9. […] ~Kathryn Baer let us know about a report published last week by the Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The report states that the number of officially homeless people in the greater Washington area has increased over the past year by 2.4%. Of the 12, 035 people who are reported as “literally homeless” in greater Washington, 6,228 are living in DC. Also important is this statistic: “Twenty-one (21) percent of these persons report severe mental illness; 23 percent have a chronic health problem and 15 percent are physically disabled.” There are currently 1,426 homeless children in DC, up 24% over last year. ~DCPCA’s CEO (and friend of Bread for the City) Sharon Baskerville was honored with the 2009 Community Achievement Award this week by DC Appleseed. ~A big “hey, thanks” to DCist for helping us spread the word about Bread for the City’s new afterhours Human Rights Clinic! […]

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