DC Family Homelessness Hits New High

May 10, 2012

Every year, as some of you know, the District of Columbia participates in a regional one-night count of homeless people within its boundaries.

Technically known as a point-in-time count, it doesn’t begin to tell us how many homeless people there are — only how many the counters find who meet the restrictive definition the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates.

Now we have the results of the January 2012 point-in-time counts. For the District, there should be no big surprises. Some shockers maybe, but not surprises.

The total number of homeless people counted increased again — 6,954, as compared to 6,546 in 2011.

The increase was driven entirely by a further rise in the number who were in families.

The count identified a total of 3,187 homeless family members — 499 more than in 2011. Of these 1,307 were adults and 1,880 were children.

The number of homeless adult family members is 239 higher than in 2011. The number of homeless children with them is 260 higher — an increase of 16% in just one year.

These numbers have increased steadily ever since the recession began. The latest total of literally homeless family members is 73.6% higher than in 2008.

Not surprisingly then, the number of homeless families increased as well — from 858 in 2011 to 1,014 this year. The count has increased by 72.7% since 2008.

Over the years, the number of homeless individual men and women, i.e., those not with family members, has fluctuated.

This year, 3,754 were counted — 104 fewer than in 2011. The latest number represents a 10.8% decrease since 2008. More evidence of how our homeless population is changing — and our policies lagging behind.

One would hope that the new PIT count would persuade the DC Council that $7 million less for homeless services will exacerbate the crisis already overwhelming the Department of Human Services’ capacities to protect homeless families.

It’s got about 200 of them parked in costly motel rooms because there’s no room for any more at DC General, the main publicly-funded shelter for families.

And there’s no clear exit for these families because the District hasn’t invested enough in housing vouchers or other affordable housing programs.

All DHS feels it can do is turn away all newly-homeless families until next winter begins — even those who’ve got no place to stay.

That, however, apparently won’t be enough to make up for the homeless services funding loss.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that DHS plans to stop serving lunches at DC General. But parents can’t cook there or keep perishables cold. Cost and health problems in the forecast.

Homeless parents not enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program wouldn’t get job training any more — this although only 17% of D.C. adults in families had a job of any sort in January.

Apparently there’d be a cutback in medical services as well.

It’s not only homeless families who’d be affected. For the first time, to my knowledge, DHS would regress toward its minimum legal obligations to protect individual homeless men and women, as it already has with homeless families.

Shelter capacity for individuals would be cut in half during the seven months outside the official winter season. This incidentally would also deprive them of the meals shelters serve.

They’d get no transportation to shelters that had space, though the largest for men are quite remote.

And maybe there’d be less demand — though not less need — since DHS would also eliminate outreach to homeless people sleeping on the streets and other “places not meant for human habitation,” as HUD terms them.

Barring unforeseeable good fortunes, some 1,870 homeless men and women could have no safe place to sleep come next April — and nothing to eat unless they could pay for it or find charitable folks who would.

The District counts homeless people every year. But do the homeless people count?

Apparently not enough to the Gray administration. But to the Council?

Maybe if those of you who live in the District put some pressure on. The Fair Budget Coalition has an editable e-mail message you can use.

UPDATE: I’ve just learned that families who’d been placed at the Comfort Inn have been moved. I’m told that 150 is a better estimate of homeless families in motel rooms now.


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.