The Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) released the organization’s fifth annual Homeless Enumeration Report, providing an updated “snapshot” of the region’s homeless population.
The report shows the number of people who are homeless rose very slightly for a fifth straight year, while new survey methods reveal that many of them are finding their way into programs that help solve the problems that lead to homelessness. Unlike previous years, the 2004 and 2005 enumerations focused on pinpointing how many people are truly homeless and how many are in supported housing.
The total number of homeless people in metropolitan Washington rose 6.2 percent from 14,537 in 2004 to 15,439 in 2005, including a 2 percent increase due to first-time inclusion of Frederick County’s homeless population. Among the total, 11,419 people are “literally homeless” with either no shelter at all or temporary housing only. The percentage of those in permanent housing – meaning they still rely on supportive services but are in stable settings -- rose from 23.6 percent in 2004 to 26 percent in 2005, a projected increase of 10.4% during the year.
“These numbers indicate that the regional Continuum of Care is moving in the right direction,” said Fran Becker, Executive Director of Arlington-based Carpenter’s Shelter and chair of COG’s Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee, which is responsible for the report. “New survey methods used to track the homeless population are helping us pinpoint more accurately how many people are literally homeless, and will help us move even more individuals and families into the supportive housing that is a vital part of the solution to ending homelessness.”
In concert with a federal initiative to end homelessness by 2012, the region’s jurisdictions are working to reduce the number of “chronically homeless” individuals and families by increasing the number of permanent supportive housing units available. The report’s authors expect the number of literally homeless persons to decrease over the next several years while the number of those who are permanently supported continues to rise.
COG’s planning committee continues to encourage jurisdictions to collaborate on practical plans to end chronic homelessness -- being continuously without a home for at least one year or experiencing at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. At today’s board meeting, the committee introduced a conference scheduled for the fall to help officials craft intra-regional plans and strategies to end homelessness, and to propose the design of a regional data warehouse for tracking the number of homeless people.
Until the regional enumeration began in 2001, it was not possible to aggregate data on homelessness in the region with any degree of confidence. This year’s report is based on a one-day count of the region’s homeless population conducted on January 26 in the area’s nine major jurisdictions, and marks the second year the annual enumeration data was broken down into the subgroups of “literally homeless” and “permanently supported homeless.”