Arlington’s annual “point-in-time” homeless count, conducted once a year in January, reported a 39 percent overall drop in the homeless population since 2013.
The number of homeless individuals — adults without children on the street or in one of the county’s shelters — dropped from 268 to 178 from 2013 to this year, a 34 percent decrease, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which published the report.
The Arlington Department of Human Services coordinated the local study, and staff and volunteers with the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) performed the field work. The number of chronically homeless in Arlington fell 52 percent from the 2013 survey, from 156 to 74. The number of homeless families in Arlington also dropped 46 percent, but the county explained in its press release that some families who were counted as homeless in the study last year no longer fit the homeless criteria.
Arlington’s homelessness officials warn that, while the numbers are undoubtedly encouraging, observers shouldn’t give too much credence to a “point-in-time” count. The survey was conducted the night of Jan. 29 this year, when temperatures dipped down to 13 degrees overnight.
“Some people may be homeless and we may not be able to count them,” Jan-Michael Sacharko, director of development for A-SPAN told ARLnow.com. “We did find abandoned tents or places that used to be used for shelter. People might have rented a hotel room for the night or pooled resources with each other for shelter.”
The survey is conducted to comply with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s snapshot surveys. HUD changed their methodology this year, requiring localities to conduct the study overnight, where previously it was conducted from sunup to sundown, Sacharko said.
The COG’s report said the cold may have “depressed the unsheltered count,” but Sacharko doesn’t think the numbers should be disregarded entirely. To give an idea of just how harsh the winter was, Sacharko said the Emergency Winter Shelter opened for full days 30 times this winter, compared to just eight times in 2013.
“We don’t know the exact numbers, but we know we’ve reduced the [homeless] population,” he said. “There’s definitely been a reduction in the number. There are definitely more people getting into housing.”
“The point-in-time count is one of several important indicators we use to gauge progress in the effort to prevent and end homelessness in our community,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in the press release announcing the study. ”There is still much work to do, but I commend the organizations and individuals who have played a role in this effort.”