The homeless population in the District increased by 13 percent since last year, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s annual count of homeless residents, released today.
Overall, homelessness in the D.C. region inched up by 3.5 percent. But that trend was attributable almost entirely to the increase in the District. In seven of the nine jurisdictions in the region, homelessness decreased; in the eighth, Loudoun County, the increase was not statistically significant, since it was a gain of just 13 people. The latest homeless count in D.C. is 7,748 people.
The jump in D.C.’s homeless population should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the spike in the number of homeless families this winter. Through January, the number of families placed in shelter was double the figure from last year. The trend slowed when the city started placing families into recreation centers—-a practice later deemed illegal by a judge. There are now 50 percent more homeless D.C. residents in families than there were in 2010, according to the count.
As MWCOG’s report notes, the increase in homelessness was driven largely by rising housing costs. A recent study by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute found that the city had lost more than half its affordable rental units, defined as those renting for under $750 a month, between 2000 and 2010. Wage growth hasn’t kept pace with housing costs.
Point-in-time counts, conducted by literally counting people sleeping in public and adding in shelter populations, have come under criticism for their variability: The number of homeless people on the street can fluctuate based on weather and city policy. Yet if anything, this count likely understated the extent of homelessness in D.C. As the report notes, the night of Jan. 29, when the count took place, was “severely cold,” and so people who normally sleep on the street might have taken refuge in hallways, businesses, or with friends or relatives who were willing to put them up for a night.
Arlington County experienced the biggest drop in homelessness, a decline of 39 percent. According to the report, county officials attribute the drop to new efforts to house homeless families, and to the cold weather that forced some people indoors.
D.C. has 65 percent of the region’s homeless population. The District’s homeless population has increased 18 percent since 2010, reflecting a relatively steady population between 2010 and 2013 before the steeper increase in the past year. All jurisdictions but D.C. and Loudoun County experienced a decrease in their homeless populations since 2010.
An estimated 1.2 percent of D.C.’s total population is homeless. The average for the region with D.C. excluded is 0.09 percent, and no other jurisdiction’s homeless population makes up more than 0.2 percent of its total population.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery