At the end of April and in the midst of a global pandemic, the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) published its annual point-in-time (PIT) count of the total number of persons experiencing homelessness in Washington, DC. It found that on a single night in January this year, the number of people experiencing homelessness was 5,111, which was down from 6,380 (a 19.9% decrease) in 2020. The total number of families experiencing homelessness dropped by 49% between 2020 and 2021 (3,871 families in 2020 to 1,240 families in 2021). 

On the surface, these numbers are encouraging. TCP says that federal action during the pandemic, including the eviction moratorium and the work done by local programs in the DC area likely had major impacts on the decreased inflow into the homeless system. The city closed DC General shelter and replaced it with smaller facilities throughout the city. DHS also began renting hotel rooms to quarantine and isolate DC residents experiencing homelessness that had tested positive for the virus or had come in close contact with an individual who had contracted COVID-19. Since then, DHS has expanded preventative hotel housing to DC’s most at-risk unhoused residents through a program called Pandemic Emergency Program for Medically Vulnerable Individuals.

Families in rapid re-housing are not included in the 2021 PIT count. According to TCP, nearly 750 families exited the homeless system in the past year and most were connected to rapid re-housing. Rapid re-housing subsidizes families’ rents for about a year before requiring that families begin picking up the costs. Since rents are often market price,  some families cannot afford the unsubsidized cost and ultimately re-enter the homeless system.

Further complicating the PIT results, the DC Department of Human Services has stated that the number of chronically homeless people in the city increased by 21% (1,337 in 2020 to 1,618 in 2021).

We have yet to feel the full effects of the pandemic and federal action may have postponed, not mitigated, many of the pandemic’s negative impacts. When the eviction moratorium ends, it is critical that we continue to support families in need by boldly investing in affordable housing and supportive services for homeless and low-income families. The full 2021 PIT report can be read here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

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