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.