A closely watched annual count of the nation’s homeless found 11,623 people without permanent shelter this winter in the Washington region, a 2.7 percent drop from a year earlier, even as other data showed the problem may be getting worse.
The annual survey — known as a point-in-time count, during which hundreds of volunteers scour under bridges, across parks and in other encampments — found 1,072 single adults sleeping outside in the Washington region the night of Jan. 28. Counters also found nine families, consisting of 39 adults and children, with no shelter. On the night of the count, temperatures were freezing and wind chill indexes were in the 20s.
The tally, released Wednesday, confirmed a continued crisis of homelessness in the Washington region evident to almost anyone who lives, works or visits the city’s downtown core during winter, when homeless men and women amass in entrances to Metro stops and many other spots where they can stay warm. It also may have understated the challenge still faced by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who has vowed to end chronic homelessness in the city.
As in years past, the bulk of the annual homeless tally included thousands of adults and hundreds of families huddled in government-funded shelters.
Much of the overall dip resulted from a 300-person drop in homeless parents and children in D.C. shelters on the night of the count.
But unlike last year, when the number of homeless families peaked near the date of the 2014 federal count, this year several hundred entered shelter or were placed in overflow motel rooms in the District throughout February, March and even early April.
By the end of the winter, the District had placed almost 1,000 additional parents and children into shelter than a year earlier. In that time, it also turned away more than 900 additional families, saying those parents had friends or family members they could stay with until they found housing of their own.
Beyond the District, numbers of homeless families also surged this winter in the city of Alexandria and in Fairfax, Frederick and Montgomery counties. Given that trend, few on Wednesday celebrated the slight decrease in the total from last year’s count.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which released the statistics, said the “single greatest barrier to ending homelessness” in the region was a “diminishing number of affordable and available permanent housing opportunities for the lowest-income households.”
The council also said a shortage of living-wage jobs has prevented the 39 percent of working homeless parents counted in this winter’s tally from earning enough to provide housing for themselves or their families.
The council said the count highlighted a dangerous lack of affordable housing and the need for governments to do more.
Laura Green Zeilinger, head of the D.C. agency that oversees homeless services, said the count, and the larger, overall number of homeless families the District saw for the winter, showed that the administration is on the right track.
The homeless population in the District accounts for 63 percent of the entire region’s homeless population, and under Bowser’s budget, the city would increase funding for affordable housing and permanent supportive housing.
“We know what the solutions, are and we’ve put the resources in . . . so that over time we can expect these numbers to come down,” Zeilinger said.
Along those lines, the count did not include more than 2,600 formerly homeless people that area governments housed for the first time over the past year.
On the night of the count, there were 14,262 single adults and family members in permanent supportive housing or apartments paid for with government assistance. They are no longer considered homeless.