The Rev. Ben Roberts, director of social justice at Foundry United Methodist Church near Dupont Circle, where Carter worshiped, said her death showed that those who work to help the homeless “fail as often as we succeed.”
“When we lose Alice, we lose one of our very vocal connections to suffering in the community,” he said. “She’s just one more missing voice.”
Carter, 35, was one of at least 117 homeless people to die in the District so far this year, according to city records. Advocates for the homeless said their numbers showed deaths this year reached a five-year high.
Organizations that support the homeless joined Thursday for an annual vigil, followed by a downtown march through evening traffic while carrying an empty coffin. They urged city leaders to increase spending on affordable housing and warned of the Trump administration’s “dehumanizing” rhetoric on homelessness.
“It’s hard doing these vigils every year,” said Robert Warren, director of the People for Fairness Coalition, an advocacy group. “The numbers keep increasing.”
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Washington Post, the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner this week released causes of death in most of the 117 cases it recorded this year involving the homeless.
The office’s general counsel, Mikelle L. DeVillier, said 52 deaths were classified as “accidents,” including 44 cases of intoxication and three in which people were struck by a vehicle.Twenty-seven deaths were classified as “natural,” including 12 cases of cardiovascular disease and six cases of “alcoholism.”
The medical examiner’s office said eight deaths were homicides and two were suicides, while the manner of death in 26 other cases was pending. City officials said that since 2018, they have improved how homeless deaths are tracked, but they added that those changes make it difficult to compare this year’s numbers with prior years.
In a statement, Kristy Greenwalt, director of the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness, a city agency that aims to end long-term homelessness, said the average age among unaccompaniedhomeless adults has increased in the city in recent years, mirroring a national trend. About half of homeless people nationally are older than 50, compared with 11 percent in 1990, she said, sparking an increase in deaths tied to chronic illnesses.
Partly because of these demographic changes, city agencies are trying to help homeless people who have increasingly complex health conditions, Greenwalt said in a statement, while trying to “move our neighbors into housing with wraparound supports as quickly and urgently as possible.”
Miriam’s Kitchen, an advocacy group that works with the District’s homeless, said its unofficial tally showed at least 81 homeless people died this year, up from 54 last year, marking the largest number of deaths since it began tracking in 2015. The nonprofit tallies its own numbers based on reports from advocacy groups.
Jesse Rabinowitz, a spokesman for the group, said it works with other service providers to create a list of those who have died. He said there was no clear reason for the increase, but noted those living on the streets are at a higher risk of dying from chronic conditions that might be better managed if they were housed.
He urged the city to significantly increase its spending on affordable housing. According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, the city approved $291 million in such spending during the 2020 fiscal year.
“That underscores the urgency of it,” Rabinowitz said. “For people living outside or in shelters, housing is literally a matter of life and death. . . . It’s the city’s moral responsibility that no one lives without housing.”
D.C. officials said after an annual count in May that the city has 6,521 homeless residents, a decline of more than 5 percent since 2018. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) promised to reduce homelessness during her first mayoral campaign, and homelessness has fallen by nearly 12 percent since she took office in 2015.
In a statement, Bowser said ending homelessness is a priority, calling each death of a homeless person “heartbreaking.”
“We are focused on investing in affordable housing, creating a robust prevention system, building resource-rich shelters that are safe and dignified, and calling on the federal government to step up and address this tragic national trend,” she said.
Laura Zeilinger, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, said the city is battling an affordable housing crisis in which the cost of housing is outpacing wages. Chronic homelessness has declined, she said, but “there’s more work to be done.”
“I look forward to the year we gather together without a list of names,” she said. “We need to stand together to defend the things we know work.”
At a Logan Circle church Thursday evening, a choir sang hymns in front of a coffin on an altar, symbolizing those who died on D.C. streets this year.
Warren, of the People for Fairness Coalition, said the group has held memorials for the homeless annually since 2012.
He’s been homeless “on and off” since the 1980s, and he said people living on the street in recent years had fallen prey to K2 — a synthetic drug often sold as a cheap alternative to marijuana — and the opioid epidemic. He also was critical of a city government that he said spends too little on affordable housing. About 60 percent of D.C.’s homeless are natives of the city, he said, and 80 percent are black.
As “pallbearers” carried the coffin Thursday to a vigil at Freedom Plaza, Warren marched down the middle of 14th Street in downtown Washington carrying a sign honoring a dead man he never knew: “David B.”
“I have no idea who David B. is,” Warren said. “But I know he’s a 71-year-old individual and he died homeless. That, to me, is a crime.”