The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
July 2, 2012

DC's homeless population is increasingly people in families

The Metropolitan Council of Governments recently released the 2012 Homelessness Point-in-Time Count for communities throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. The annual Point-in-Time (PIT) census occurs on a single night in January and counts people staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing facilities as well as those sleeping on the streets. The data gathered in this snapshot help local governments and homeless service providers define their policies for providing housing and other supportive services. The data also offer a consistent measure of the scope of homelessness nationwide. This year’s PIT shows that while the number of homeless single adults has significantly declined across the region, the number of homeless people in families has increased.

Across nine jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan region, PIT census volunteers counted nearly 11,830 homeless people; the majority (59%) were in the District of Columbia (DC), which has always had the largest number of homeless since the region began conducting the enumeration survey in 2001. From 2008 to 2012, the total number of homeless people in the metro area increased by only 1 percent.

About 53 percent of the region’s homeless are single individuals, and 47 percent are people in families. The share of the homeless in families varies by jurisdiction (see map below). It’s lowest in Montgomery County (39%), and Alexandria (40%), and Frederick County (41%); it’s highest in Prince William County (66%), Loudoun County (58%), and Prince George’s County (57%). DC’s share is below the regional average, at 46 percent. While the number of homeless single adults in the region has declined 13 percent from 2008 to 2012, the number of homeless people in families has increased 23 percent over the same period.

As was true of the region’s homeless population in general, the majority (57%) of homeless persons in families were found in the District. The District’s Continuum of Care is working hard to provide stable housing for many of these families.  Half of these families were in transitional housing, but the remaining 31 percent were in emergency shelters and 19 percent placed in motels rooms throughout the District. This year, nearly three times as many families needed to be placed in motels compared to the previous year.

The lack of affordable housing in the District and the foreclosure crisis both contribute to the rise in family homelessness. Using the data gathered from the 2012 PIT census, servicers and government officials should develop policies and services to address the region’s increasing homeless family population and continue to support those that have sustained a decrease in the number of homeless single individuals.

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