The blog of the Urban Institute
May 20, 2011

DC's Homelessness Count - A Mixed Story That Could Get Worse

May 20, 2011

As I blogged last month, in January I joined hundreds of volunteers to count DC’s homeless population.  Now the results are in.   With 6,539 counted in 2010 and 6,546 counted in 2011, homelessness in DC held steady, says the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the agency that tallies the data.

The results tell a mixed story and the bottom line depends on the population you are looking at.  Yes, 4 percent fewer single adults are homeless, but homelessness among families jumped by 7.3 percent. Most likely, homelessness among single adults fell because the District invested in permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.  And even more families might have found themselves homeless had DC not received Recovery Act funds for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

Yet, no hallelujahs are warranted either.  Recovery Act funds have now dried up, while the demand for affordable housing remains high and the economy hasn’t fully recovered. Many homeless service providers are scrambling to piece together stopgap measures as a result.   Meanwhile, to balance the budget, Mayor Gray is cutting social programs, increasing revenue, and tapping the Housing Production Trust Fund to cover gaps elsewhere.

This year’s homelessness tally was better than most expected.  But the city needs more wind in its sails than it got since family homelessness is trending up, up, up—climbing 34 percent since 2006.  Only serious investment in affordable housing can slow and then reverse a rapid rise in homelessness among families in years to come—you can count on that.  


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