Homelessness in DC region is lowest since Point in Time counts began

The D.C. region’s Point in Time count conducted in January reveals a 15% decline in homelessness since last year’s count, according to a briefing for area leaders on Wednesday.

“The trends are actually pretty consistent across jurisdictions,” Kristy Greenwalt, D.C.’s Interagency Council on Homelessness director, told the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Board.

However, the snapshot in time count of 8,309 doesn’t reflect the true scope of the problem.

“There are inflows and outflows every single night of the year. New people experience homelessness; other people leave the homeless service system to housing,” Greenwalt said. “When you look at how many people experience homelessness throughout the course of the year — it’s much larger — at least a factor of two to three times larger than this point in time number.”

Still, that one night count is the lowest recorded since the region began coordinating the count in 2001.

For the second year in a row, D.C. had the greatest drop in numbers year to year with a 1,269, or 20%, decline overall, followed by Alexandria that counted 101 fewer people, representing a 50% decline.

Long-term trends for veterans experiencing homelessness are encouraging.

Veteran status wasn’t gathered in Frederick County and the city of Frederick because surveys were abbreviated to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus, but five of COG’s eight jurisdictions counted fewer veterans in 2021 versus 2020.

“Since 2017, the region has reduced the number of homeless veterans by 16%,” Tom Barnett, with Fairfax County’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness Director, told the board.

“The overall reduction in the veteran homelessness count is attributable to the targeted funding from the federal government to assist veterans in the form of the Veterans Affairs supportive housing or VASH vouchers. As well as the supportive services for veteran families or SSVF Program.”

Barnett said the ability to further reduce the number of homeless veterans will be constrained as long as permanent housing resources are lacking.

The Point in Time count finds people and families identifying as Black or African American are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

Seventy-five percent of single adults and 82% of people in families responded that they are Black compared to the region’s population in which 25% of people are identified as Black.

“It is important to note that a root cause of a disproportionate representation of people of color is a legacy of institutional and systemic racism that impacts our communities to this day,” Barnett said.

COG’s Homeless Services Committee and nine participating jurisdictions have just launched a yearlong collaboration with a consulting firm to examine what’s happening here and find ways to create a more racially equitable approach to ending homelessness.

Results are expected next year.

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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