Homelessness Plagues D.C.

More than 17 percent of District residents are homeless. (Courtesy photo)

On any given night, there are 8,350 homeless individuals in the District.

Approximately 6,259 live in emergency shelters and 1,773 are located in transitional housing facilities, and 318 people are living on the streets of D.C., according to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, a northeast D.C.-based independent nonprofit that coordinates the District’s Continuum of Care on behalf of the city.

A glance outside of the numbers reveal that more than 17 percent of residents in the District live in poverty, based on recent census data.

The news is all the more sobering because, although there remains too many without permanent shelter or none at all, coalition officials said the statistics involve a great deal of families who simply don’t have the means to better themselves.

“In the District, there was a general decline in the number of homeless individuals in January 2016 versus an increase in the number of persons in families,” said Michael Ferrell, the executive director of the Coalition for Homeless, a northeast D.C.-based nonprofit organization that provides shelter and supportive services to more than 500 homeless individuals and families who are city residents.

The Coalition works on activities and solutions in the community to help eliminate homelessness.

“The increase in family homelessness in the District was primarily driven by a policy change in the District allowing families year round access to shelter,” Ferrell said. “Prior to April 2016, access to family shelters in the District was limited to the winter months, November through March.”

Additionally, more than 70 percent of the homeless families in the District are on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and have incomes of less than $5,000 annually, woefully inadequate to afford any type of housing in the nation’s capital without some form of subsidy, Ferrell said.

“Finally, the supply of affordable housing for low-income households in the District has declined over the past 10 years,” Ferrell said. “The issue of affordable housing is a regional issue that needs to be addressed in order to help reduce the level of homelessness in the area.”

Since her election in 2014, Mayor Muriel Bowser has made homelessness a high priority, extending the availability of shelters beyond the cold-weather months, when there is a threat of hypothermia.

A survey reported by The New York Times pointed out that the Bowser administration had done especially well sheltering homeless children and veterans. In 2016, the city had the lowest percentage of unsheltered homeless among the study’s cities.

Adjacent to the suffering is prodigious wealth.

Census data released in December showed four of Washington’s neighboring communities as the richest in the nation — Loudoun County, Falls Church, and Fairfax and Howard Counties — while the District of Columbia maintained a median household income of over $70,000, The Times reported.

The “Point in Time” numbers also exposed a generational calamity. The average age of adults in homeless families is 27.

In December, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, an organization that researches budgets and taxes that affect needy residents in the city, revealed in a report that with rising rent, the poorest Washington residents faced spending more than half their income on housing.

Median rents in Washington are reportedly more than $1,300, yet only a third of what the institute calls 26,000 “extremely low-income” households can afford rent above $200 per month. Only 9 percent of this group actually has housing at that rate.

Last month, activists held vigils around the country to remember the thousands of homeless people who died in 2016, many of them prematurely. In D.C., that included 46 homeless individuals who died last year — many of them in their 40s or 50s, according to NPR.

“Being without housing is just, it’s like a spiral. You’re just kind of spiraling down,” said Robert Warren, who was homeless during two stretches of time in the nation’s capital.

He’s become an organizer of the city’s homeless memorial service, held each year to recognize people like his friend Kanell Washington, who was homeless for almost 30 years.

Washington was supposed to be helping with the 2016 service, but he died suddenly in October of kidney failure. At age 60, he was one of the older ones, NPR reported.

“To lose him, you know, just like that — you know, it’s like, he was just gone,” Warren said. “It was kind of hard.”

But it’s not that unusual. Studies have found that the mortality rate for homeless individuals is three to four times greater than the overall U.S. population. And life expectancy is at least 12 years shorter than for those who are not homeless.

Many of those living on the streets have problems such as diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and substance abuse. And being homeless only makes matters worse.

“What do we want? Housing! When do we want it? Now!” the marchers chanted at the December vigil, as they made their way toward an outdoor plaza one block from the White House, where they planned to spend the night in a tent.

About Stacy Brown 192 Articles
I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.