Washington, D.C. – According to an annual report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), there are 12,215 homeless individuals living in the area – a 5 percent increase (or 592 people) from the 2015 count. The report, Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington, contains the results of the 16th annual count of the region’s homeless population—a one day “snapshot” of people living within nine area jurisdictions.
Seven of the nine participating jurisdictions in the region recorded decreases in the number of persons experiencing homelessness for 2016. Arlington County achieved the greatest percentage decrease over the past year (27 percent); the county also reported the greatest percentage in persons counted since 2012 (61 percent). Fairfax County experienced the largest decrease in the number of persons experiencing homelessness during the same period (2012-2016) and counted 475 fewer individuals. The District of Columbia and Frederick County both reported increases in their homeless populations in 2016. The District of Columbia, where 68 percent of the region’s residents experiencing homelessness live, counted 1,396 additional persons between 2012 and 2016 (an increase of 20 percent). Frederick County increase from 2012 to 2016 (22 percent) is based upon 64 individuals and therefore the population size may be too small to be truly significant.
Despite an increase in the overall regional total of people experience homelessness, the report noted a significant increase in the number of formerly homeless persons. On the night of the count, 17,087 people were residing in some form of permanent or permanent supportive housing and were no longer considered homeless. In addition, the number of chronically homeless persons, an individual experiencing long-term or repeated homelessness with a disabling condition, has declined by 28 percent between 2012 and 2016.
Virginia became the first state in the nation to declare that it had ended veteran homelessness statewide by meeting the federal definition of “functional zero” last November. In addition, Arlington County and Montgomery County, became two of only five jurisdictions in the country to meet the similar, but more stringent, definition of “functional zero” through their participation in Community Solutions’ Zero: 2016 campaign.
According to Michael Ferrell, Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director and COG Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee Chairman, the successes highlighted in the report can be attributed the significant increase in the number of individuals in permanent and permanent supportive housing, and a continued focus on prevention and diversion strategies.
According to the report, high rents, stagnant wages, and a decline in affordable housing are among the challenges faced by jurisdictions in their efforts to end homelessness. It calls on jurisdictions to continue efforts to reach out to and house unsheltered homeless persons, continually increase supportive wrap-around services, increase affordable housing stock, and provide training opportunities to low-skilled and low-wage workers to “create ladders of opportunity” to higher-paying jobs.
The report was compiled by the COG Homeless Services Planning and Coordination Committee and released May 13 at the COG Board of Directors Meeting. Participating jurisdictions are: The City of Alexandria; Arlington County; The District of Columbia; Fairfax County, including data from the city of Falls Church and the City of Fairfax; Frederick City and County; Loudoun County; Montgomery County; Prince George’s County, including data from the City of Bowie; and Prince William County, including data from the City of Manassas and the City of Manassas Park.