Homelessness On Rise in Area, Survey Finds
By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 24, 2002; Page B01
Homelessness in the region has risen sharply since last year, according to the Washington area's second annual homeless survey, which documented notable increases in the number of working homeless and homeless children.
During a single day in January, volunteers and outreach workers counted 13,982 homeless men, women and children in the area -- an 8.8 percent increase over the 12,850 people counted on the same date, Jan. 24, in 2001. The number of children counted, 3,866, was 12.5 percent higher than last year, according to a draft report compiled by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Better counting methods could partly explain the higher numbers. But rising housing costs, a dwindling supply of affordable and subsidized housing for the working poor, the economic slowdown, and fragmented services for people disabled by mental illness and addiction all contribute to the problem, experts say.
The report serves as a harsh reminder of the scope and reach of homelessness, even in the most affluent parts of the Washington area, said Stephen Cleghorn, who prepared the draft report and serves as chairman of COG's committee on homelessness.
"The problem is still really big," he said. "It's not decreasing."
According to this year's survey, 31.1 percent of the 10,116 homeless adults were employed. The number of working homeless increased 22.5 percent for the region, excluding Alexandria and Montgomery County, which did not report on employment in 2001.
Children make up 27.6 percent of the region's homeless population, the survey found, with the rate by jurisdiction reaching as high as 41 percent in Fairfax/Falls Church.
While research a decade ago suggested that three-fourths of the area's homeless lived in the District, this year's report shows the divide continuing to close, with 53.4 percent living in the city and 46.6 percent living in the suburbs.
Families represented 40 percent of the area's homeless population. No figures on family status were gathered in last year's count.
Homeless families tend to make up a larger percentage of the suburban homeless, Cleghorn said, partly because there are fewer chronic or "street" homeless in the suburbs, and partly because some suburbs have failed to develop additional affordable housing.
"It's so expensive out there," said a homeless mother of two from Fairfax County. "It's really, really hard." She spoke on condition of anonymity because she has not yet spoken about her homelessness with co-workers at her $22,000-a-year job at a nonprofit group.
She said that when her children's father stopped paying child support, she fell behind on her bills, including rent of $748 a month and child-care costs of $958 a month, and was evicted. She has been on a waiting list for a federal Section 8 rent subsidy certificate since March, she said, and had to move her family to the Volunteers of America shelter in Woodbridge several weeks ago. But she said that her time there runs out Wednesday and that she is worried she won't find another place.
"Come the 29th, me and the kids will probably be sleeping in the car," she said.
She is not alone in her predicament, said Cleghorn, who is also deputy executive director of the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness in the District.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company