Over 25 Percent Increase in Homeless DC Families, Annual Count Finds

May 14, 2014

I knew we had a homeless family crisis in the District of Columbia — as I suppose did just about everyone who’s reading this. But I was still stunned by the new one-night count figures from the Metropolitan Council of Governments.

On a night late last January, 1,231 families in the District were in an emergency shelter or transitional housing. This represents a one-year increase of about 25.2% — and a mind-boggling increase of 109.7% over 2008.

At this one point in time, 2,236 children were homeless and with parents or other caretakers. The District’s report to MCOG also identified five unaccompanied homeless youth, who, by definition, were under 18 years old. Would this were an accurate count!

Homelessness apparently increased for virtually every other population the report breaks out, but the family increase outstrips the rest.

For example, the count identified more unaccompanied men and women, i.e., those who didn’t have children with them — 3,953, as compared to 3,696 in 2013. Yet the increase in the number of people in families — adults, plus children — is well over two and a half times greater.

The 6.95% increase in the number of homeless individual men and women may be a blip, since the number had been trending modestly downward since 2010. Not so the homeless family increase, which has risen every year since 2008, when MCOG first began reporting families as a unit.

We also see what may be a blip in the recent (also modest) downward trend in the number of chronically homeless individuals, i.e., adults who have a disabling condition and have been homeless for at least a year or recurrently during the past four years.

This year, 1,785 were counted — 21 more than in 2013. This is nevertheless a decrease of nearly 18.3% since 2008. We can credit it largely, if not entirely to investments in permanent supportive housing, though the count clearly supports the need for more.

The District reports that 3,500 individual men and women are formerly homeless — and thus not counted — because they are in PSH. It also reports 858 families so housed. The huge homeless family increase would thus have been even greater without PSH.

At the same time, the number of chronically homeless families counted, i.e. those with at least one adult who meets the official definition, was virtually the same as in 2011, when they were first added to the count. And it was 50 families higher than last year.

A smaller number of families were counted as formerly homeless because of rapid re-housing, i.e., housing that’s temporarily subsidized and typically paired with some services.

At the time of the count, 635* families who’d been homeless reportedly had housing — at least, for the time being — through one of several rapid re-housing programs. Most of them had been moved from emergency shelters via the main rapid re-housing administered by the Department of Human Services.

The DC Council is expected to vote on the budget for next fiscal year two week from today. Before then, the Human Services Committee has to wrap up its proposals for homeless services.

It’s got three sets of recommendations from advocacy and service provider organizations — each focused on a different segment of the homeless population, though families have a place in all three.

The count, in different ways, lends support to all of them — The Way Home, which aims to end chronic homelessness in the District, the “roadmap” for homeless family services and the Bold Strategy to End Youth Homelessness, which, among other things, calls for an “extended point-in-time study” to give us a better fix on how many homeless youth there actually are.

The count also reinforces the urgent need to act on some other recommendations — obviously, though not only larger investments in programs to make housing affordable for extremely low-income individuals and families. And for the 42% of homeless adults who reported no income of any kind.

The Council doesn’t need the new numbers to know we’ve got a large, complex homelessness problem in the District — and a worsening homeless family crisis. But maybe the numbers will galvanize agreements to increase funding where it’s so obviously needed.

* This, at any rate, is what the housing and shelter “inventory” indicates. The report isn’t altogether clear on whether all units for families were occupied. For PSH, it seems that not all were.

 

 


What We Know (and Don’t) About the Drops in DC Homelessness Rates

May 9, 2013

In my last post, I summarized the major results of the latest point-in-time, i.e., one-night, count of homeless people in the District of Columbia.

We see one-year decreases for the homeless population as a whole and for all the subgroups the District reports to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Decreases are longer-term for two overlapping groups — homeless individual men and women, i.e., those not with family members, and individuals classified as chronically homeless.

The District’s report attempts to account for the decreases. It attributes them to an expansion in permanent supportive housing capacity and its investments in homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

We’ve got sound evidence for the impact of PSH. The evidence for HPRP — the rapid re-housing component, in particular — is squishy.

It may help explain the one-year declines, but they’re no proof that rapid re-housing will end homelessness for the families that the Mayor — and his Director of Human Services — want to force into the program.

Permanent Supportive Housing

As I previously remarked, the steady drop in the number of chronically homeless individuals counted probably reflects the high priority that both federal and local policies have placed on moving these individuals into PSH.

The report itself provides additional evidence for this. At the time of the latest count, it says, 3,690 individuals and 983 families were in PSH units, thus not homeless for the purposes of the count.

Both these figures are higher than those reported in 2012 — by 18% and 8% respectively.

But this doesn’t mean that the District can take credit for providing housing with supportive services for all these formerly homeless people.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that the Department of Human Services expects to have 1,350 households in the PSH units it’s funding this fiscal year.

Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing

The PIT count report offers no basis for assessing the impacts of homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

A brief by the Community Partnership to End Homelessness says that 762 individuals and 643 families are “stably housed” because of HPRP.

But we have no timeframe for these figures. So we don’t know how long ago the beneficiaries received the one-shot or limited-time assistance — let alone anything about them, e.g., how much steady income they had.

We do, however, have data indicating that a goodly number of individuals and/or families didn’t stay stably housed after their rapid re-housing subsidies expired, presumably because they couldn’t afford to pay the full rent.

A presentation, also by the Community Partnership, says that two-thirds of rapid re-housing participants “exited” the program to “permanent destinations” (HUD-speak for permanent housing) and that 91% of them remain stably housed.

So about 39 out of every 100 households that had the limited-term rent subsidies are in some sort of unstable situation — either at-risk or literally homeless.

We don’t know how long the rest have been stably housed, though a recent statement by David Berns, the director of Human Services, suggests perhaps only one year.*

We do know, however, that some homeless families declined rapid re-housing because they were pretty sure they couldn’t pick up the full rent. So even if the stably-housed figure is fairly long-term, it would reflect some self-selection.

Why Fuss About the Rapid Re-Housing Data?

I’m nattering about the under-supported claims for the success of rapid re-housing because they have immediate policy implications.

As I recently wrote, the Mayor’s proposed amendments to the Homeless Services Reform Act would, among other things, give homeless families a choice between rapid re-housing and life on the streets.

At the time of the PIT count, 18% of homeless D.C. adults with children had no source of income whatever. Twenty-five percent were employed, but obviously not earning enough to pay market-rate rents here.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was the most commonly reported source of income. TheĀ maximum TANF benefit for a family of three is less than a third of the monthly rent on a modest two-bedroom apartment.

How many families who’ve remained stably housed entered the rapid re-housing program with comparable incomes — and comparably doubtful near-term prospects for such significant improvement that they could afford full rent?

For the two-bedroom apartment, that would require a monthly income of nearly $4,707 — more than three times the District’s minimum wage.

Seems to me the DC Council should have a much better grasp on the putative — and prospective — success rates of rapid re-housing before it votes on the HRSA amendments.

A better grasp and a lot more input on other issues too.

* Berns says that “91 percent of those who have been re-housed … remained in stable housing after one year.” He’s apparently using the Community Partnership’s figure as if it were a percent of the whole, rather than of two-thirds.


DC Homelessness Rates Trend Downward, But Still Very High

May 8, 2013

The upsurge in homelessness in the District of Columbia seems to have abated — at least for the time being. The actual numbers, however, remain very high.

And while homelessness among individual adults is now lower than in 2008, when the recession had just set in, family homelessness is still exponentially higher.

This is the top line news for the District in the just-issued report on the results of the one-night homelessness counts by communities that belong to the Metropolitan Council of Governments.

As I always say, these point-in-time counts don’t tell us how many homeless people there are — only how many meet the restrictive definition the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates.

Nevertheless, they’re all we’ve got for the District’s homeless population and the subgroups reported to HUD.

So here are the figures, with some additional calculations I’ve made to indicate change over time. I’ll deal with how the report explains the recent decreases in a followup post.

The total number of homeless people counted dropped a bit — from 6,954 last year to 6,865. This represents a decrease of 1.3%, but it’s still 16% higher than in 2008.

The number of homeless families also decreased — from 1,014 to 983 or by 3%. Even with the drop, however, the number has increased by nearly 67.5% since 2008.

The count identified 3,169 homeless family members — just 18 fewer than in 2012. Of these, 1,301 were adults and 1,868 were children with them.

The number of homeless individual men and women, i.e., those not with family members, declined for the third year in a row. The latest count identified 3,696 — 22% fewer than in 2008.

These are adults only. The count identified six homeless unaccompanied youth, i.e., kids under 18 who weren’t with a family member.

This presumably reflects major flaws in the count, since a limited survey by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates found about six times as many who’d fit the definition the count used.

Both local and federal policies have put a high priority on moving chronically homeless individuals into permanent supportive housing.

We see the results in the number counted — 1,764, as compared to 1,870 in 2012. This is the fourth year in a row that the number has dropped.

PSH probably also helps explain the relatively small number of unsheltered homeless individuals counted — 512. This is 25% fewer than in 2012.

The count isn’t complete, of course, but the percent drop is probably fairly accurate. Figures for earlier years may not be comparable because recent PIT reports suggest greater efforts to identify the unsheltered population.

All these numbers speak to choices local policymakers have made — and some facing them right now. More on this tomorrow.


HUD Reports Dropping Homelessness Rates

December 13, 2012

As you may have read, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has released the nationwide results of last January’s point-in-time counts — the one-night census of homeless people that HUD requires of all its homeless assistance grant recipients.

The headlined news is that homelessness seems to be “holding steady,” as HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan puts it.

The bigger news, I think, is that homelessness rates are apparently lower than they were in 2007. This is true not only for the grand total, but for all the specific groups in the required PIT breakouts.

Some of the long-range percentage declines are so counterintuitive as to make me wonder whether we’re getting a true read or results of some unaccounted for changes in methodology.

After all, we’ve had a major recession, with lingering consequences. Nearly four million homes lost due to foreclosures.

About 4.1 million jobs lost that haven’t been replaced. A record high number of long-term jobless workers. Other labor market woes as well.

On the other hand, we do have some progress that’s fairly easy to explain. So within the definitional limits of the PIT counts maybe the rest is real too.

In any event, here are the key figures.

According to the PIT counts, the total number of people who were homeless during some night in late January was 633,782.

This is a fraction of a percent fewer than reported the year before. The number is 5.8% lower than for January 2007. In other words, 38,106 fewer literally homeless people.

The number of homeless individuals, i.e., not with a family member, ticked down 1.4% to 394,379. In January 2007, there were 6.8% — 28,998 — more of them.

The number of homeless people in families* rose by 1.4%, to 239,403. But the number of homeless families was basically the same as in 2011 — 77,157.

As compared to January 2007, there were 3.7% fewer homeless people in families and 8% fewer homeless families. These percents translate into 9,108 fewer homeless family members and 6,778 fewer homeless families.

We see larger drops in two populations that HUD — and more recently, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness — have made top priorities.

The number of chronically homeless individuals** declined 6.8%, to 99,894. There were 19.3% — 23,939 — more people classified as chronically homeless in January 2007.

It seems reasonable to suppose that these figures reflect increases in permanent supportive housing — a strategy designed for chronically homeless people that’s strongly encouraged by the structure of HUD’s assistance programs, as well as a number of research and advocacy organizations.

Federal policies also account for much, if not all of the reported progress toward the goal of ending veterans’ homelessness.

According to the latest PIT counts, the number of homeless veterans declined 7.2%, to 62,619. This is 17.2% fewer than in 2009, the baseline year for this population.

The big factor here is the HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) voucher program, which has reportedly supported permanent housing, plus supportive services for more than 42,000 veterans since the program started in 2008.

An additional factor I’d guess is that the VA side of the funding can also be used to prevent veterans from becoming homeless, e.g., by paying some one-time costs of moving to housing they can afford.

In this respect, it’s somewhat like the broader Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program that was part of the Recovery Act.

HUD gives HPRP part of the credit for the just-reported homelessness decreases. And it does seem likely that the short-term help the program funded was enough for people who’d suffered temporary setbacks.

And now what? Communities had only three years to spend their HPRP grants. So they’ll have no money from that pot in the coming year — and even in the best of cases, no boost in their basic homeless assistance grants to cover the loss.

They’d share a loss of about $180 million if the “fiscal cliff” negotiations don’t halt the impending across-the-board cuts.

And there’d be lots more homeless people in want of help — more than 282,000 additional households, according to one estimate.

In short, such genuine progress as there’s been could be short-lived.

* These are only people “who are homeless as part of households that have at least one adult and one child.”

** By HUD’s definition, these are people who have a disability, including a mental illness and/or substance abuse problem, and who’ve been homeless for at least a year or at least four times in the last three years.


DC Council Finds Funds For TANF, But Poor Families Will Still Be Homeless

June 2, 2011

So DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown has managed to find $4.9 million for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

This will be used to temporarily halt the phase-out of cash benefits for families who’ve been in the program for more than five years. And a good thing too.

As a number of fellow bloggers have commented, it’s grossly unfair to penalize families for the program’s failures to provide suitable job training and other needed services.

Outrageously unfair to punish children because their parents haven’t been able to find sustained living wage work in our high-skill, recession-battered economy.

Also, as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has argued, counterproductive because children who live in poverty are less likely to learn what our public schools aim to teach them. Push more of them into even deeper poverty and you set the stage for another generation of poor parents raising poor children.

On the other hand, the TANF program needs more than protection of current cash benefits. It needs enough funding to boost them.

They’ve remained flat for three years, which means they’ve lost value due to inflation. At this point, a family of three can get, at most, enough to put it somewhat below 28% of the very low federal poverty line.

Here’s one indicator of the results. According to the recently-released final figures from the District’s 2011 homeless count, 83% of literally homeless adults in families had some regular income. And the most common primary source was none other than TANF.

The Council, to its credit, put $17 million more into homeless services, thus making up for most of the shortfall. So at least those TANF families should be able to count on shelter this winter.

It also rejected, in principle, Mayor Gray’s plans to gut affordable housing programs.

As DCFPI reports, the Council’s version of the Budget Support Act, i.e., the legislation needed to implement the budget, allocates a portion of the additional revenues it hopes the Chief Financial Officer will project to restoring the $18 million shifted out of the Housing Production Trust Fund.

An additional $1.6 million of the hoped-for revenues would be used to preserve all affordable units subsidized with Local Rent Supplement Program funds for the homeless individuals and families sponsors intended to house.

The mayor’s proposed budget co-opted 175 of them to house people in the permanent supportive housing program. If all goes well, they’ll be housed without foreclosing opportunities for others.

But the first $22 million of new-found revenues will go to moving remaining expenses parked in the capital budget into the operating budget, where they belong.

Half of the remainder will be used to build up funds reserved for future contingencies. And the first $10.8 million of the rest will fund additional police force positions.

If my back-of-the-envelope calculations are right, the upcoming CFO projection will have to show more than $100 million more in expected revenues for both homeless services and affordable housing to be brought up to current funding levels.

Whatever the projection, the Council can still change its mind.

Council Chairman Brown and some of his colleagues reportedly still want to use some $13 million of the found funds to replace the just-passed tax on interest earned from out-of-state bonds.

This now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t approach to balancing the budget was in Brown’s version of the BSA. A bare majority of Councilmembers passed an amendment to block it.

But neither the amendment nor any other part of the BSA will be final until the Council votes again on June 14.

The Save Our Safety Net coalition suggests we stiffen the backbones of Councilmembers who voted for the bond tax amendment and try to move others into their camp.

A one-vote margin is never comfortable, especially when it includes at least one Councilmember who, let’s just say, has proved remarkably unpredictable.


New Figures Show Still More Homeless Families In DC

April 18, 2011

The Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments has just released preliminary figures from the homeless counts conducted in late January. We’ll get more details next month when the final report is issued.

But even the preview shows that the District of Columbia, like the region as a whole, still faces a rising tide of literally homeless people, i.e., those in shelters, transitional housing and “places not meant for human habitation” like streets, parks and bus stations.

And the increase is still driven by families with children. According to the January 2011 count:

  • The total number of homeless people in the District registered virtually no change — 6,546, as compared to 6,539 in 2010.
  • But the number of those people who were in families increased by 265 to a total of 2,688. This is 852 more than in 2008, when the recession had just set in.
  • The number of homeless children in families increased from 1,535 in 2010 to 1,620. This is about two and a third times more than in 2008.
  • The number of homeless families as a whole rose to 858 — 50 more than in 2010 and 287 more than in 2008.*

In short, family homelessness in the District has increased by nearly 32% in the last three years.

The increase probably would have been even greater if the District hadn’t had federal stimulus funds for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

And there could well have been more homeless families on the streets had the District not been able to supplement its local homeless services funds with stimulus funds for its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that most of the stimulus funds have been spent. And the District won’t get more federal funds earmarked for support of its permanent supportive housing program.

Yet Mayor Gray proposes to cut local funding for homeless services by $11 million. He also wants an additional $2.3 million cut in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which has kept some low-income households from needing homeless services.

The District is already denying shelter to families who’ve got no place to stay. It’s a good bet there will be more of them if the Council approves the mayor’s proposals for further cuts in TANF cash assistance and the phase-out of the Interim Disability Assistance program.

So the Council’s got a lot of work to do. And so do we because it won’t do what’s needed to shore up homeless services — let alone bend the family homelessness curve — unless it hears from us.

* UPDATE: DCFPI analyst Alexandra Gajdeczka provides additional figures, with great graphs, on homelessness and homeless services funding in the District. Her figures show that I miscalculated. The number of homeless families in D.C. has actually increased by 271 or 46% since 2008.


More Homeless DC Families And No Clear Plan To House Them

May 23, 2010

The new homeless count report for the Washington D.C. metropolitan region delivers mixed news. Some surprises for neighboring counties and the region as a whole. Basically, what we’d expect for the District of Columbia. And that’s a cause for concern.

The number of people who were literally homeless in late January was somewhat lower for the region as a whole than it was last year. But it was about 5% higher for the District–311 people in all.

Recall that these are only people who met the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s restrictive definition. We still have no idea how many people are living doubled up with friends or relatives or trying to make do in a cheap motel. Nor, indeed, can we feel certain that the total includes all the homeless people who were living on the street, in vacant buildings, cars or other “places not meant for human habitation.”

The number of homeless people in families also declined for the region as a whole. But for the District, the number increased by 10%–this on top of a 19.8% increase in 2009.

A closer look at the D.C. count shows 800 literally homeless families–97 or 13% more families than in 2009. Looking back to the 2008 count, when the recession had just set in, we see that family homelessness has increased by 36.3%.

It’s family homelessness that’s driving the upward trend in total District homelessness. In fact, the number of single homeless people counted was lower this year than in 2008, though 82 (2.1%) higher than in 2009.

I wonder if the Fenty administration has its mind around the problem. The District’s homeless count report again this year states that “Permanent Supportive Housing is the solution to homelessness” [emphasis added]. I’ve expressed doubts about this before.

Nothing in the latest homeless count report convinces me that most homeless families need “wrap-around” supportive services. A liberal interpretation of the “subpopulations” count would put the number at somewhat less than 400. The rest, I would wager, simply need an affordable place to live.

In any event, the District is a long way from creating enough PSH units to replace the net loss in affordable housing units. According to its draft strategic plan, it had 78 families in PSH at the time of this year’s homeless count. Its report on the count says that it’s added nearly 200 PSH units since then.

But the family shelter at DC General was packed to over-flowing until mid-March, when press exposure and a threat of litigation got the Department of Human Services hustling. As of May 18, 131 families were there. That means there were only four vacant rooms for families who urgently need shelter.

According to the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, DHS has now “closed the front door to family shelter entirely,” even though it’s aware of 15 families who are living on the streets, in cars or some other unsafe place. I take it this means the agency will not make more shelter space available.

I’ve been told that 28-30 more families will soon be placed in PSH units. At a recent briefing, Clarence Carter, the head of DHS, said they planned to open 50 more units for families in 2011. Together, these will house only about 60% of the families at DC General now.

Carter also said the department would ramp up efforts to prevent family homelessness, using funds from the District’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program and federal funding under the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.

Well, ERAP is slated for a $1.3 million cut, and it’s regularly run out of funds at higher levels. Only a portion of the District’s HPRRP funding is left. I understand DHS plans to use part of it to house about 25 families. That still leaves a lot of homeless families without a safe, stable, reasonably decent place to live. And recall that more families are bound to become homeless before the end of next year.

The District surely won’t have enough additional housing vouchers for them. The mayor’s proposed funding for the Local Rent Supplement Program would cover only vouchers already issued. No indication that the DC Council will fund more.

President Obama’s proposed budget for HUD would provide just enough more federal funding to preserve the current number of Housing Choice vouchers, plus a relatively small additional amount that could be used to fund vouchers for homeless and at-risk families with children. Doubtful there’s enough there to make much difference in D.C.

One can only hope that the District will find a way to provide more housing subsidies for homeless families. Otherwise, we could witness another winter of severe overcrowding at DC General–and perhaps more unsheltered homeless families next spring.

UPDATE: The DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that, as of this morning, May 25, the DC Council’s budget plan would cut funding for ERAP by more than $4 million.


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