The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) third annual count of the region’s homeless population on a single day indicated an increase in homelessness among families with children, but suggested only a slight increase overall in the size of the homeless population within the region.
In addition, for the first time, the survey attempted to count the “chronic” homeless, a category that includes families or individuals who have been continually homeless for more that a year and are not presently in transitional or permanent housing. The 2003 survey counted 1,939 adults and 218 persons in families as “chronic” homeless.
The one-day count, conducted on January 22, 2003 found increases in the homeless population in Washington, D.C., and Prince William County compared with last year’s one-day count. It is important to note, however, that COG’s enumeration project provides a “snapshot” of the homeless people who come into contact with service providers on a single day. It is not a scientific count of the population trend over time.
“There is much more we can do to improve the delivery of and access to services for the region’s homeless population,” said Prince William County Supervisor and COG Board Chair Mary K. Hill. “This one-day enumeration clearly establishes the need for collecting, analyzing, and sharing factual information on the number, location, and characteristics of our region’s homeless.”
Last year’s count found that 40% of the total homeless population consisted of families with children. This year, the category constituted 46.5% of the homeless.
In 2003, all jurisdictions used the same survey instrument to report and aggregate their data, although data were collected through different means by each jurisdiction. Nonetheless, researchers maintain that the enumeration is the most effective measure of the regional homeless problem at present. Key findings as a result of the count indicate that all jurisdictions except the District of Columbia and Prince William County had about the same or fewer homeless than in 2002.
The Committee offered several recommendations to address the problem of homelessness:
- Implement a homeless management information system (HMIS) by 2004;
- Collaborate to produce a plan to end chronic homelessness by 2012 and
- Modify and update regional housing policies to include providing affordable housing for low income and disabled individuals.
Until the regional enumeration began in 2001, it was not possible to aggregate data on homelessness in the region with any degree of confidence. The coordinated point-in-time enumerations over the past three years are producing meaningful data on homelessness throughout the region. COG will continue to conduct the survey each year and share the information gathered to improve shelter and other services for homeless families and individuals.