Eradicating homelessness in the city is a challenging goal that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she’s trying to tackle. And back in the spring, she even touted a survey showing the number of homeless people in D.C. is down to its lowest amount in more than a decade.
However, advocates for the homeless say dozens still died on the streets this year and are urging city leaders to act with even more urgency.
Citing numbers collected from multiple sources around the District, “This year, 72 of our neighbors passed away without housing,” said Jesse Rabinowitz, a homeless advocate for Miriam’s Kitchen who said that is just the confirmed cases, and that the real total may be even higher.
The cause of death for those 72 people ranged from violent homicides to illnesses and diseases that Rabinowitz said are treatable and preventable. They include complications from infections, sepsis, diabetes and heart attacks.
Over the last eight years, he said, the total number of homeless residents who died while living on the streets now stands at over 440. A vigil was held earlier this week commemorating those residents.
Rabinowitz also said that more than half of those who died this year had a housing voucher, “which means they were somewhere in the process of getting assigned to a case manager or looking for an apartment.”
To Rabinowitz, that’s proof that the process of housing the homeless is taking too long.
“We have to figure out how to move people from homelessness into housing very quickly,” he said.
“All of these things are treatable and manageable and preventable when folks get into housing,” he said, describing housing as healthcare too. “We know that people experiencing homelessness die early and die often from treatable and manageable diseases.”
As a formerly homeless resident, William Long said there’s simply not enough housing to fill the needs of the unhoused.
Describing sleeping on sidewalks and in abandoned buildings, even a port-a-potty, “It’s by the grace of God I didn’t die,” said Long. “I woke up in places cold, frigid. Even now I have body aches and body pains. Sleeping out [there] in the cold really takes a toll on your body.”
WTOP has contacted D.C.’s Department of Human Services for comment.