During an unusually warm night on Jan. 25, the District, its nonprofit partners, and more than 300 volunteers counted 7,473 homeless people—whether on the streets, in shelter, or in short-term housing—representing a 10.5 percent decline in their total number as compared to 2016.
The annual survey, called the “point-in-time” count because it offers a snapshot of the District’s level of homelessness on a single day, also saw a 21.8 percent drop in homeless families over last year—data Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s administration was quick to tout today in releasing the results of the count. Such surveys are required of jurisdictions like D.C. receiving federal funding to combat homelessness, and are intended to help officials target services and resources.
“These results show that our efforts to prevent homelessness and connect more residents to safe and affordable shelter are paying off,” Bowser says in a statement. “We still have more to do, but we have made significant progress over the past two years, and we will continue this work until every D.C. resident has a place to call home.”
Specifically, the count found 897 people who were without shelter, 5,363 in the emergency shelter system, and 1,213 in programs meant to put them on the path to independent living.
But the number of unsheltered individuals during the survey almost tripled as compared to the 2016 number, from 318 to 897 people. D.C.’s Department of Human Services says the primary reason for this spike “was the unseasonably warm weather” on the night of this year’s count. In particular, the 2016 count “was held a few days after a blizzard when a Cold Emergency was still in effect,” and therefore more individuals were in shelter than unsual.
The District counted 1166 homeless households this year, comprised of 3,890 people, which includes minors. D.C. conducts a separate census tailored to unaccompanied youth. In 2015, that survey discovered over 320 homeless youth, two-fifths of whom who identified as LGBTQ.
The results come as the D.C. Council works to finalize the District’s budget for next fiscal year, which starts in October. When Bowser announced her budget proposal, groups criticized it for not fully investing in homeless services and affordable housing, falling millions of dollars short of what those groups estimate is needed. The survey results also come on the heels of reports showing that D.C.’s main program for relocating homeless families out of shelter is deeply flawed and that the District failed to spend, and had to return, nearly $16 million in federal housing money.
The administration has defended its record on serving D.C.’s low-income residents, noting in a release that it’s “invested more in affordable housing than any other jursidiction in the country” through a dedicated trust fund ($106 million last year), diverted more than 2,000 families from having to access shelter, and helping to find permanent housing for over 1,800 D.C. veterans.
While the District is advancing a plan to close the deteriorating D.C. General family homeless shelter, which houses more than 250 families on a typical night, it still hasn’t acquired the land necessary for a family homeless shelter in Ward 1. Officials are also hoping to discover private landlords willing to lease entire buildings as emergency shelter, since D.C. currently spends upwards of $80,000 a night to house homeless families in hotels in the District and Maryland.