On what promises to be a brutally cold night around the District, volunteers will be on the streets for an annual count of D.C.’s homeless population.
Recent years have shown encouraging progress in the fight against homelessness.
Advocates say the total number of homeless residents has been dropping significantly since 2016 — by 73% — and last year alone, the survey noted a 20% decline in homelessness in DC from 2020.
“That’s driven primarily by very large reductions in family homelessness,” said Christy Respress, the executive director of Pathways for Housing DC. “Where we have been stagnant is in ending homelessness for single adults.”
While last year’s survey found a 20% overall drop, the number of homeless people sleeping on the streets went up about 4%, and those tend to be the single adults who are on their own. They’re also the most visible examples of homelessness in the city.
“Most people experiencing homelessness in the region aren’t actually sleeping outside,” said Respress. Most are actually in shelters.
“The majority of people sleeping outside, actually almost all, are either single adults or youth experiencing homelessness,” she added.
So what are they bracing for this year?
“We are anticipating, we believe, some higher numbers of people just from what we’ve seen throughout the year of people sleeping literally outside,” Respress said.
But she noted that with a boost in federal and local investment, there’s optimism that the overall number may have declined again.
“We always hold our breath,” Respress said.
This year, Amerigroup DC will be out with those volunteers handing out items like socks, hats, gloves and hand warmers, “things that we know this community needs,” said Charmekia Martin, the strategic engagement director for Amerigroup DC. “The needs that fit the climate.”
Why is this annual count so important?
“We need to hold ourselves accountable as a community to reaching our goals to end homelessness,” Respress said. “If we’re not tracking that progress, or lack of progress every year, we’re not able to figure out what different resources do we need to allocate, how do we change our strategies?
“The goal is ending homelessness so if we don’t measure that progress then we’re really doing a disservice to our community and to our neighbors on the street.”