High D.C. rents fuel rise in family homelessness

A homeless encampment near 15th Street and I-395 just outside Pentagon City includes blankets, sleeping bags, shopping carts and personal accouterments. (WTOP/Alicia Lozano)

WASHINGTON — A new report from the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments shows homelessness in the D.C. metro area has increased over the past year to nearly 12,000 people.

That is a 3.5 percent rise when compared to 2013.

While many surrounding jurisdictions saw homeless populations decrease, within D.C. borders, the figure spiked 13 percent from more than 6,800 people to more than 7,700.

“Increases in the region’s already-high rents make it very difficult for extremely low-income households to find or maintain housing that they can afford,” the report states.

According to researchers, family homelessness is on the rise, contributing to the increase in homeless numbers.

Family homelessness in the region increased 8.8. percent from 2013 to 2014 and 17.7 percent since 2010. Nationally, family homelessness decreased.

“The greatest barrier to ending homelessness in our communities is the lack of fixed, affordable permanent housing opportunities for the lowest income households,” according to the COG report.

Meanwhile, homelessness in Montgomery County decreased 11 percent. Fairfax County saw a 9 percent decrease.

The largest drop, 39 percent, came in Arlington County.

The areas that saw decreases used strong prevention efforts and other programs that focused specifically on their homeless populations, according to the report.

To reverse the trend in D.C., COG researchers recommend, among other prevention initiatives, “a renewed dedication to creating and preserving affordable housing opportunities for low-income families.”

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