After a relatively balmy December, the second week of January brought the coldest temperatures D.C. has seen so far this winter. In from the cold came men, women, and children with nowhere else to go, bringing the total number of homeless families currently in shelter to 481.
As of Thursday morning, 230 families were living at D.C. General, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services. The decaying shelter, located adjacent to the Hill East neighborhood, can accommodate 248 families. An additional 251 families were housed at two motels, the Days Inn and Quality Inn on New York Avenue NE. That number was 59 on Dec. 13, 2014, halfway into the second month of hypothermia season, when the city is legally required to shelter the homeless.
To deal with an anticipated 16 percent increase in the number of families seeking shelter compared to last winter, the city secured contracts with two motels for 260 units, with a search for a third motel underway. The contract for the second motel allows for an additional 50 units to be secured on top of the original 90, bringing the total to 310. Unlike last winter, the motels are being run as shelters, with staff on site 24 hours per day.
Most concerning to advocates at this point in the winter is the low number of placements out of shelter. Between Nov. 1, 2014 and Jan. 2, 2015, 79 families exited shelter, according to a report from the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, which runs the shelters for the D.C. government. In order to keep up with demand for shelter, DHS aims to exit around 65 families per month.
“The exit situation is concerning all around,” says Kate Coventry of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Also concerning, she says, is the need for a third motel to house families.
As of Jan. 2, 2015, there were still 26 families in motels who were placed prior to the current hypothermia season, down from 50 on Nov. 1, 2014.
This post has been updated with additional information.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery