The number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Washington, D.C. has hit a 17-year low, with a 13.7% decrease from last year.
District Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced the results of the 2022 Point in Time count (PIT) April 21, an annual census conducted by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness that measures the amount of individuals experiencing homelessness in the District. This year, the PIT results show that 4,410 persons are currently experiencing homelessness, and that chronic homelessness has declined 26% among families and 22% for single adults.
Mayor Bowser said the decline in individuals experiencing homelessness can be attributed to the implementation of Homeward D.C., a program designed to end long-term homelessness in the District, according to an April 21 press release.
The program aims to transform the service system for families experiencing homelessness, which has now declined 78% since the District government implemented the program. After closing the D.C. General homeless shelter in 2018, the program helped to open several short-term family housing shelters with a wider array of services across D.C.
The decrease in reported individuals experiencing homelessness is also due in great part to the work of local homeless outreach programs, such as Pathways to Housing D.C., according to Bowser. Pathways to Housing helps serve over 3,500 unhoused individuals overcoming mental illness, substance abuse or other serious health issues every year.
The 2022 PIT count demonstrates that investments in the right programs and advocacy groups can help make homelessness a solvable problem, according to Monica Harrington, the director of institutional advancement at Pathways to Housing D.C.
“The most significant success was the 22 percent decrease in chronic homelessness, especially after years of seeing this number increase,” Harrington wrote to The Hoya. “It is the most telling sign that the work and resources are making a difference.”
One of Bowser’s main focuses throughout her last term has been fighting to end homelessness. While the closure of D.C. General and opening of family shelters was met by praise following continued calls from homeless advocates for its cessation, other programs created during her administration have drawn criticism. Residents in the rapid rehousing program, which provides subsidized housing for 12 to 18 months to individuals experiencing homelessness, have said that the program has left many facing eviction after their subsidy runs out.
Other local advocates questioned the accuracy of the PIT count, saying that the official measurement only includes those living on the streets or in the sheltered system for one set day, failing to include people who live in their car, couch surf, or are in a “doubled-up” crowded household.
Mayor Bowser’s proposed FY23 budget will focus on investing in solutions that will combat the current issues in programs for unhoused individuals, according to D.C. Department of Human Services Director Laura Green Zeilinger. This will include $31 million to end chronic homelessness and $114.6 million to modernize and renovate existing homeless shelters.
Zeilinger said one of the most important parts of combating homelessness in the District is to treat unhoused residents with dignity and respect.
“While I am proud of the work we do to connect District residents to affordable housing, I am especially proud of the system by which we welcome people home – it’s a system consistent with our District values in that it is centered in human dignity,” Zeilinger said in a press release. “Our residents are deserving of a safe and stable place to call home and we are dedicated to making that vision a reality.”
Despite the decline in reported individuals experiencing homelessness, Harrington said there is still work to eliminate homelessness in D.C.
“We need to acknowledge where there are still cracks in the system, especially for veterans where we saw a rare spike in homelessness (up 11%), aging populations, returning citizens, and for those who are experiencing mental health and substance use challenges,” Harrington wrote.
Other local advocacy groups include the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless, which seeks to provide temporary housing, food, employment placement and substance abuse counseling to at-risk individuals, and Thrive D.C., which offers services such as meals, computer access, employment assistance and transitional housing.
Local leaders are relying on the 2022 PIT count to highlight which demographic groups are disproportionately impacted by homelessness, according to Harrington.
“We need to continue to embed race equity across all D.C. efforts to ensure that housing is affordable and accessible, especially to generations of native Washingtonians,” Harrington explained. “We need to repair the harm and trauma of homelessness that disproportionately impacts people of color. We need to make sure that homelessness is rare.”