DC records ‘historic’ reductions in homelessness as region sees all-time lows

The number of people experiencing homelessness in D.C. is seeing significant decline, and officials say this indicates that programs to help people are working.

The result of the “point in time” count of people who are homeless was released Thursday. The count is conducted every year by every jurisdiction in the U.S. on the same night in January.

“Overall, homelessness in the city is down 20% from last year and family homelessness is down 50% from last year,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “And, for the first time, we saw a small decrease in individual homelessness as well.”

That 20% overall average of categories includes a small increase in chronic homelessness that the city defines as someone having a disabling condition, repeated episodes or being homeless continuously for a year or more.

The city’s 5,111 homeless does not include veterans who are considered separately because they have access to additional types of services. This year, an all-time low number of 187 homeless veterans in D.C. was down from 350 last year.

“I am so thrilled about the results in our point in time count — that we are seeing historic reductions in homelessness,” said Laura Zeilinger, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services.

Although evictions have been on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, Zeilinger said most people who end up in shelters typically leave an environment where they were doubling up in someone else’s home.

She said the numbers also are not a result of higher wages or housing becoming more affordable. Instead, she said, they reflect that programs are working. Every city ward now has a shelter for short-term family housing.

“Supporting people in shelters, in the right ways, in short-term family housing, as well as supporting their exits, (that’s why) we have seen a 50% reduction in one year in family homelessness,” she said.

Record-low numbers of people are experiencing homelessness regionwide.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments will present its Point in Time report during the Council of Governments Board of Directors meeting May 12.

Some of the findings that will be released:

  • COG’s analysis finds 8,304 people are experiencing homelessness region-wide. That’s the lowest number recorded since the region began coordinating on the count 20 years ago.
  • Regional homelessness is down 25%, or by over 2,800 persons, in just the last five years.

Nationwide, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released to Congress last month its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report Part 1 that found that 580,466 people experienced homelessness in the U.S. on a single night in 2020, an increase of 12,751 people, or 2.2%, from 2019.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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