Homelessness Causes More Deaths Than We Know, But We Know There Could Be Fewer

December 17, 2015

Tonight will be the longest night of the year. Here in the District of Columbia and in other communities across the country people will gather to share memories of homeless people who died during the year.

The National Coalition for the Homeless and partners invented National Homeless Memorial Day many years ago to focus attention on homeless people who died on the streets or the equivalent — and to strengthen our collective commitment to ending homelessness.

We don’t know how many homeless people died unnecessarily since last December. And we’ll never know how many future Memorial Days should commemorate, let alone who they were.

Knowing what we do know, we can guess that some froze to death in remote fields or abandoned shacks or died because they were so weakened by lack of food or untreated illness or injuries. Some perhaps died in fires they started to keep themselves warm and then couldn’t control.

Even in metro areas, homelessness is rarely, if ever the official cause of death. The same conditions I’ve just cited would be the causes, not homelessness itself.

This is also true for the fatal acts of violence that NCH periodically reports as a subset of hate crimes against homeless people.

The results of the acts — death from blood loss and injuries caused by a beating, for example — would be the cause, not homelessness, though that made the victims singularly vulnerable and even targets chosen for no other reason.

So the District’s evening memorial ceremony will include a reading of at least 41 names, most of people who died on the streets. But this doesn’t mean they were the only homeless people who died — and wouldn’t have if they’d had a safe place to stay.

Quite a damper on the holiday mood, I realize — and somewhat inconsistent with the commemorative nature of the rituals. So let’s look at the flip side.

We know that fewer homeless people would needlessly die if they could bed down in a shelter — and would go to a shelter rather than sleep on a park bench, under a bridge or some other “place not meant for human habitation.”

And we know that many won’t go because they object to the unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the shelters they could get into. Homeless individuals in the District have voiced additional griefs, as perhaps those elsewhere have as well.

Yet even in the best of cases, shelters are a makeshift sort of answer to problems indicated by the mortality rate of homeless people, i.e., the number who die within some predetermined period of time.

It’s four to nine times the rate for housed people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. As one might expect, it cites health-related causes, e.g., exposure to infectious diseases, chronic illnesses, “poor mental health.” But it acknowledges violence too.

The obvious answer for most homeless people is simply housing at a rent they can afford. No more exposure to tuberculosis, for example, or to gun violence and random beatings than any of the rest of us risk when we venture out.

But for some, the better answer is permanent supportive housing — and more particularly PSH based on the Housing First model.

Housing First is the best answer for chronically homeless people, i.e., those who’ve been homeless for a long time or recurrently and have a disability (or disabilities). That, at any rate, is what both such research as we have and other evidence tell us.

As its name suggests, Housing First provides chronically homeless people with a safe, stable place of their own without requiring them to prove they deserve it — by successfully completing a substance abuse program, for example, or by agreeing to participate in one.

They are, however, offered services to overcome disabling substance abuse problems, as well as other services that can help them become healthier — and, in some cases, ultimately able to join (or rejoin) the workforce.

Not all Housing First participants can, however, become so financially self-sufficient as to afford rent at market rates. Many need long-term subsidized housing, though not an ongoing, intensive battery of supportive services.

This seems the case with a formerly homeless homeless advocate in the District who’s familiar to those of us who attend meetings, hearings and the like.

He often says that Housing First saved his life. Living on the streets, as he was, he couldn’t control his diabetic condition or other chronic illnesses in part because he had no safe, cool place to store his medications.

Even if he had, the pressures and chaos of street living — the need to somehow get enough food for the day and lug his belongings from one place to another — may have made it all but impossible for him to follow his medication schedule or resist the addiction to alcohol that led to his homelessness.

In short, he could have been one of the homeless people memorialized. Instead, he’s an active member of the People for Fairness Coalition, which has spearheaded a follow-on to this evening’s vigil.

PFFC members and others will march to the plaza across from the building that houses the Mayor’s executive office the the DC Council tomorrow morning. They will call on policymakers to, among other things, end chronic homelessness before 2018, as the local Interagency Council on Homelessness envisions.

The need is surely there. Last January’s one-night count identified 1,593 chronically homeless single individuals who had, at best, beds in shelters or temporary housing.

The current budget will fund PSH for 363 more such individuals, as well as 11o families with at least one chronically homeless member. So The Way Home, as the local Housing First campaign is called, has a long way to go.

But we see progress here, which is more than can be said for many communities, including a goodly number where homeless people die neglected and one one even takes account of them.



DC Coalition Calls for Some Spending Increases, But They Could Save Money … and Lives

January 29, 2015

A new mayor in the District of Columbia. New appointments to senior administrative positions. Three new Councilmembers — and two more to come.

Unexpected challenges for them all because the current fiscal year’s budget seems likely to be short about $83.3 million. It could be considerably more if the District decides to, at along last, settle its overtime dispute with the firefighters.

And there’s a bigger potential budget gap for next fiscal year — perhaps $161.3 million, according to the Chief Financial Officer’s latest estimate of the costs of District agency operations.

Into this still-fluid environment comes the Fair Budget Coalition, with its annual recommendations for (what else?) a budget and related policies that are fair to all District residents. “Fair,” as its mission statement says, means policies, including budgets, that “address poverty and human needs.”

As I’ve remarked before, FBC’s recommendations, worthy as they all may be, tend to be difficult to wrap up in a blog post because they’re a compendium of top priorities identified by working groups that focus on diverse issue areas — housing and homelessness, workforce development and income supports, etc.

So, at least for now, just a few observations.

Everything Is Connected To Everything Else

Though FBC offers diverse recommendations, they fit together, as all speakers on the panel the coalition hosted on report release day emphasized.

For example, if you’re homeless, free health care — and prescription drugs — won’t keep you from suffering life-threatening emergencies because it’s hard to follow a doctor’s recommendations when you’re out on the streets. And impossible, of course, to keep medications refrigerated, though you know some won’t be effective if you don’t.

Thus, said panelist Maria Gomez, the founder and CEO of Mary’s Center, “Health care will not help without other investments” — in the immediate case, obviously affordable housing. Perhaps other public benefits also, e.g., nutrition assistance, transportation subsidies.

A Budget Gap Doesn’t Make Spending Recommendations Moot

FBC’s recommendations seem to involve about $45.2 million in additional spending, plus some unspecified amounts, at least one of which would add to the tab. Some of the total could be offset by a pair of tax recommendations, however.

One would make the local income tax system “more progressive,” i.e., shift more of the tax burden to high-earners. The other would raise the property tax rate on “high value” homes and homes that the owners don’t live in for most of the year.

No revenue estimates for these, however — at least, not yet. More importantly, I’m inclined to doubt that the Bowser administration and the Council would revisit tax reform at this point, since the current budget adopts key recommendations that emerged from the Tax Revision Commission’s studies, debates and ultimate compromises.

This doesn’t mean that the District simply can’t afford the spending FBC recommends, budget gap notwithstanding. For one thing, the gap, large as it may seem, is only 2.3% of the projected FY 2016 budget.

For another, it’s far from certain that everything the District now spends money on is the best investment of our taxpayer dollars.

Take, for example, the Film Incentive Fund, beloved by Councilmember Vincent Orange. We’ve got research showing that the tax subsidies and other incentives used to entice TV and movie companies to film in the District don’t even pay for themselves, let alone generate additional revenues.

Nor, according to studies elsewhere, do they create steady, full-time work for residents. Not much work at all, in fact.

Just an example of where one might look for funds to, say, actually improve employment prospects for low-income residents. The modest investment FBC recommends to create career pathways for D.C. adults without basic literacy and math skills probably would.

Connections Have Budget Implications

The Mayor and Council don’t need to short worthwhile programs in order to shore up others because investing more in some yields high returns in savings and/or revenue increases. Here’s a pair of related examples — often cited.

FBC recommends an additional $12 million to expand permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities who’ve been homeless for a long time or recurrently. Studies in other communities have found that PSH not only prolongs and improves lives, but usually costs less than leaving chronically homeless people on the streets or sheltering them overnight.

Likewise, vouchers that enable homeless and at-risk families to afford market-rate housing and other vouchers that help cover the operating costs of affordable housing not only provide families with a safe, stable place to live — and thus a healthier environment and a secure platform for working or preparing for work.

These indefinite-term vouchers also cost less than a third of what the District spends, per family, on shelter at the notoriously awful DC General — or the hotels that it’s again constrained to use as shelter because there’s no room left at DCG.

No room left because the Department of Human Services can’t move enough families out fast enough to make room for all the newly-homeless families entitled to shelter. While DHS had reportedly achieved a so-called exit rate of 64 families per month, only 37 families exited the emergency shelter system during the last four weeks we’ve got (unpublished) reports on.

More locally-funded housing vouchers, especially the kind families can use in the private market as long as they have to would swiftly free up shelter space and/or keep families from needing it.

Cost-savings include not only shelter, but the collateral costs of harms associated with homelessness, especially for children. These include, but are not limited to health, behavioral and academic problems that can ultimately diminish earning power — and thus tax revenues. More immediate costs — some justified, some perhaps not — include interventions by the child welfare agency.

By these lights, FBC’s recommendation for an additional $10 million in locally-funded housing vouchers, split evenly between the first and second type, makes sense from a fiscal, as well as a moral — or if you prefer, humanitarian — perspective.


Nearly a Third Fewer Veterans Homeless: Smart Spending Works

November 10, 2014

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently reported a slight decline in the number of homeless people nationwide — 2.3% fewer than in 2013.

One can quarrel with the figure. And four major advocacy organizations have, arguing, among other things, that the definition of “homeless” that communities must use for their counts excludes a very large number of people, including youth and families with children.

More reliable, I think, are figures showing a marked drop in the number of homeless veterans — 10.5% fewer than in 2013 and 32.6% than in 2009. No other group the one-night counts break out experienced anything close.

Even in the District of Columbia, where the total number of homeless people increased by nearly 13% — and the number of homeless families by more than 25% — the number of homeless veterans ticked down. And it had plummeted by 42% since 2009.

Two cities claim they’ve ended chronic homelessness for veterans. And recent figures reportedly indicate that the District is about a third of the way toward ending it for all veterans by the end of 2015 — the goal Mayor Gray and at least 224 of his counterparts adopted from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

USICH made ending veteran homelessness a first order of business for the federal agencies it includes — and by extension, state and local governments, nonprofits and others in the private sector.

And what the results tell us, I think, is that sometimes throwing money at a problem goes a long way toward solving it.

HUD has used dedicated funding to provide about 68,000* housing vouchers to local public housing agencies since 2008. Congress has appropriated $75 million for these vouchers every year, but one since Fiscal Year 2009 — and apparently is set to do so again.

The PHAs must have a local healthcare center nearby to provide case management and other services. These are funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

No separate line item in the budget for these, but the account VA draws on is said to be “generally robustly funded.” And indeed, the Secretary recently invited nonprofits to apply for a total of $93 million in grants.

So the jointly-funded program represents a quite large federal investment in permanent housing, with supportive services for homeless veterans — mostly those qualifying as chronically homeless.

HUD attributes the marked decline in veteran homelessness mainly to this program. And it seems reasonable to believe that the long-term decline in chronic homelessness is related — 30% fewer individuals since 2007.

Yet USICH had to push back its goal for ending chronic homelessness because, says its executive director, “[W]e haven’t been willing to invest $300 million to create the affordable housing that’s needed.” She’s apparently referring to Congress — certainly not to USICH.

She’s hopeful that progress on veteran homelessness will show that “when we put appropriations behind … [the right solution] we can drive change.”

“We do think we can get to the point of saying there are no more homeless veterans in the country,” she tells a real estate news reporter. And that will show we can achieve the same for other populations as well, “if we set our mind to it.”

Kurt Runge, Director of Advocacy at Miriam’s Kitchen, says something similar about the campaign to move veterans in the District off the streets and into permanent supportive housing. “Not only can we end chronic veteran homelessness, but we can end all homelessness.”

That doesn’t mean we will, however — or even seriously try to. Veterans have a privileged place in our policymaking and budget choices.

So, as Bryce Covert at Think Progress, astutely says, “[T]he danger is that while some groups have bipartisan support and will meet their goals, progress will end there.” The head of the National Coalition for the Homeless, whom she quotes, thinks “some folks” will consider the job done when the veterans goal is met.

All of which makes the cheering figures on homeless veterans — and the well-financed, energetic support for housing the rest — somewhat bittersweet news.

* This is the figure on the HUD-VASH page of HUD’s website. The agency’s press release for its homelessness report says “more than 59,000.”




New Campaign Aims to End Chronic Homelessness in DC

January 27, 2014

Last January’s one-night count identified 1,746 chronically homeless people in the District of Columbia. These are people who’d been homeless a long time or recurrently and had at least one disability.

A new coalition has launched a campaign to end chronic homelessness here by 2017 — three years after the District was to have ended “altogether the tragedy of disabled and vulnerable people living in the streets or permanently in congregate shelters.”

Well, the District obviously has a long way to go. But, says the coalition, the goal is achievable. And the way to get there is simple — provide housing for all chronically homeless residents. Hence, the name of the new campaign — The Way Home.

Home, however, isn’t just housing. It’s permanent supportive housing, i.e., a safe, stable place to live, plus services that will enable residents to become as self-sufficient as possible, e.g., health care, help in overcoming trauma, training in “life skills” like money management and handling conflict

PSH has been part of the District’s homelessness strategy from the get-go. The original plan, adopted in 2004, included 2,500 new units, which the city would either develop or subsidize — 2,000 for individuals and 500 for families.

A followup plan developed for the District in 2008 indicated that 260 units had been created, leaving a very large balance.

In Fiscal Year 2010 and again in Fiscal Year 2011, President Obama, with the consent of Congress, gifted the District with a total of $27 million for Housing First, its permanent supportive housing program. So we witnessed a growth spurt.

But when the earmarks ended, progress toward the 10-year goal slowed and then slowed some more. Only 121 units were added to the stock last year, the Washington Post reports.

Prospects for this year are slightly better — 133 more units, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s budget report. This would make for a total of 1,483 units — about 59% of the goal the District was supposed to reach in 2014.

DCFPI notes that the DC Department of Housing and Community Development planned to fund construction and/or renovation of at least 100 more units, with the Department of Human Services then providing the money for the supportive services.

DCHCD has apparently done its part. But units it funds don’t have to follow the Housing First model. Nor do they have to go to homeless people with the most urgent needs for intensive services, unlike the Housing First units that DHS leases.

Those go to high-scorers on a vulnerability index, which identifies people who’ve been homeless so long and have such severe health problems that they’re likely to die if left on the streets or in a shelter.

Departures from the model clearly concern the new coalition. As it says, Housing First has certain characteristics that not all PSH programs share.

Basically, as its name suggests, Housing First moves chronically homeless people into housing immediately, then delivers the services they need. They don’t have to first successfully complete a substance abuse program or otherwise prove they’re “housing ready,” e.g., by following a course of treatment for their mental health problems.

And they don’t have to adhere to a prescribed regime, though as the model’s founder says, they’re more likely to once their top priority — housing — is met. And if they relapse, they’re not tossed out, as may happen with PSH that doesn’t follow the Housing First model.

Housing First has two big things going for it. One is that it’s got a proven track record of success in ending homelessness for people who’ve got a track record of it.

A study of New York City’s pioneering Pathways to Housing found that 88% of participants were still housed after five years, as compared to 47% in the city’s residential treatment program, which was a step in a continuum designed to end in permanent housing.

A multi-community program in Massachusetts reports that only 3% of participants returned to homelessness in the six years since it began.

The second big thing is that it’s a cost-saver. In Seattle, a Housing First program for people with severe alcohol problems saved $4 million in crisis intervention services in a single year.

Denver’s Housing First program cost $4,475 per person less over a two-year period, compared to what the city would otherwise have spent on shelter, emergency room and inpatient hospital care, detox and incarceration.

Larger savings in Massachusetts — $9,464 per person per year.

Mayor Gray’s Deputy for Health and Human Services claims that he fully supports the District’s Housing First program. I’m not so sure — and wouldn’t be even if she hadn’t mangled the facts.

His administration’s proposed changes to the Homeless Services Reform Act would have undermined the basic principles of Housing First, as testimony by Amber Harding of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless amply explains.

More generally, the administration has shown a decided preference for time-limited safety net programs — and a related aversion to anything that smacks of a tolerance for dependency.

However, we haven’t had a coordinated, single-focus campaign for Housing First before. And this one is just getting started. What it needs if broad community support.

The Way Home will formally kick off Wednesday evening — 6:30 at the National City Christian Church. All are invited. And we can all join the campaign by signing a pledge of support.

Gray Administration’s Responses to Call for More Permanent Supportive Housing Misstate Facts

October 14, 2013

Reasonable people can differ over how much the District of Columbia should spend on Housing First, its permanent supportive housing program.

The Gray administration contends that it’s spending as much as it can. A coalition of local service providers and advocates thinks it should spend more, as the Washington Post recently reported.

It’s often said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Which doesn’t mean all opinions are equal, of course. But everyone isn’t entitled to their own facts. Gray administration spokespeople, however, seem to think they are — or simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

I’m referring to their claims that the District isn’t getting federal funding for homeless services any more. Also where they say it once got funds for PSH, though that’s perhaps less germane to the current issue.

Pedro Ribiero, a spokesperson for the Mayor, told the Post reporter that “[t]he federal government is not handing out money any more,” though he apparently also acknowledged that it was.

Then BB Otero, the Mayor’s Deputy for Health and Human Services, wrote the Post to expand on Ribiero’s points. She maintains that “federal funding is completely dried up.”

And, like Riberio, she also asserts that the District got one-time funding for PSH from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Most jurisdictions,” she says, ended “similar programs” when their ARRA funding ran out, while the Gray administration not only replaced the lost funds, but expanded the PSH investment.

Here, as best I’ve been able to determine, are the facts.

The District did get “one-time” funding for Housing First, but it wasn’t through ARRA. Recovery Act funds for homeless services were specifically for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

Thus, the Fenty administration’s announcement of how the District would use its $7.5 million grant refers only to support for residents struggling to retain their existing housing and several forms of financial assistance to help those who needed to move into a more affordable place.

The District did, however, get what was initially one-time funding for PSH. The Fiscal Year 2010 federal appropriation for the District included $17 million for the program, available for spending through September 2011.

The District got another $10 million for Fiscal Year 2011. So the one-time funding was actually two-time. As I recall, the administration was given to understand that these unique infusions wouldn’t be ongoing — that, in fact, it would be expected to pick up the tab for the units created.

And it has, which accounts for most of the local funding increase the Mayor’s people tout.

Federal funding has not completely dried up. Federal funding for the District’s homelessness programs has certainly shrunk. Congress didn’t renew the special earmark for the PSH program. The ARRA money truly was one-time.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds that support homelessness programs were indeed subject to sequestration, as Ribiero said. Department of Veterans Affairs funds were exempt, however — and thus the money the District (and other jurisdictions) received to provide the service components of PSH for homeless vets.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the District’s homeless assistance loss at slightly less than $1.1 million. Not chump change, but far from a total wipe-out.

So the District has received federal funding for its homeless services programs, apart from and since the unusual one/two-time grants. And it’s not planning for a drought. The Department of Human Services told its oversight committee that it expected just under $13.7 million for this fiscal year.

This includes about $7 million specifically for PSH — over $1.1 million more than the District received last year (sorry, no link).

It apparently does not include all the funds HUD awards to nonprofits that provide homeless people with housing and services as part of the District’s continuum of care. The most recent total for the COC was $20.4 million.

Most communities have not ended their PSH programs. Where Otero (or whoever wrote for her) came up with this way to boost the Gray administration is a mystery.

A national expert I consulted isn’t aware of any communities that have abandoned PSH. Surely she would know if most jurisdictions had done so.

We deserve straight talk. None of this is to say that Congress hasn’t put the District — and other jurisdictions across the country — in a bind, since they must either make up for the ill-timed, arbitrary spending cuts or reduce assistance to people in need.

Yet the District’s finances are in much better shape than most. The Chief Financial Officer now expects $6.31 billion in tax revenues this fiscal year — nearly $173 million more than the projection the budget was based on.

So the Gray administration is understandably defensive — even though, as it says, it’s putting more money into PSH.

It will serve an estimated 133 more households this fiscal year — or perhaps as many as 233 more, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s budget analysis. The higher number would still be more than 900 of the units that the District’s strategy for ending homelessness by 2014 called for.

The Mayor has chosen not to ask the DC Council for approval of the funds needed to achieve this goal — or for that matter, for the money to resume providing shelter or housing for homeless families year round, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves in Metro stations and the like.

We shouldn’t expect the Mayor’s spokespeople to say that ending homelessness just isn’t a top priority — nowhere near so important as subsidizing a new home for the soccer team.

But we should expect them to stick to facts — and get those straight — when they talk about federal funding.

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.