The Council of Governments’ recently released report Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington found that on January 29 2014 there were 11946 homeless people living in the Metropolitan Washington region – a 3.5 percent increase from 2013. The report attributes the regional uptick primarily to the increase in homeless persons in the District of Columbia which has been covered widely by local media and blogs.
In addition to revealing this serious increase the report also highlights important accomplishments in seven of nine participating jurisdictions. The successes the region has seen in reducing the number of unsheltered homeless and the chronically homeless demonstrates that local governments and their partners are implementing a variety of sound strategies every day.
For example Montgomery County recorded its single largest one year decline in homelessness (11 percent) in 2014. This achievement is attributed primarily to the decline of unsheltered single adults. How did they do it? Montgomery County and its partners (organized into a coordinated public-private system called a “Continuum of Care” or CoC) provided new funding for permanent supportive housing and other permanent housing options. In addition the CoC continued to conduct outreach and prioritized the most vulnerable chronically homeless persons for placement in permanent supportive housing a model promoted by the 100000 Homes Campaign. Montgomery County joined the Campaign in 2013. Other strategies that worked well with families include the Rapid Re-housing Program and prevention and diversion efforts to place families in the community.
Arlington County and Fairfax County also achieved significant reductions in their homeless populations this year. Arlington attributes its success to several factors including participation in a “100 Homes Campaign” based on the 100000 Homes Campaign that specifically targets its County. Fairfax County attributes the decrease in homeless persons in families to strong prevention efforts prioritizing rapid re-housing from family shelters and strategically reducing the numbers of transitional housing units. Fairfax County is also participating in the 100000 Homes Campaign.
The region’s CoCs also have 10 Year Plans to End Homelessness that guide and inform their efforts to streamline internal processes and improve coordination. These efforts are targeted at reducing the number of people entering the shelter system and for those who do enter the system reducing the amount of time spent in shelter.
However even implementing the best national practices will not be successful without a greater availability of affordable housing for the lowest-income households. Our 2014 reportcites this obstacle as the greatest challenge to ending homelessness in our communities. To read the report which includes individual summaries from each city and county on their programs and services click here.
This post was written by Hilary Chapman COG Housing Manager.
Photo credit: Harriet Wise Photography (Volunteers conduct 2014 count in Frederick MD)