By MEGAN MILLER
WASHINGTON (April 8, 2009) - Homelessness among families in the Washington metropolitan area jumped more than 15 percent in the past year, according to preliminary numbers from an annual count.
That increase from January 2008 to January 2009 helped fuel an overall 2.2 percent spike in the region's homeless population. Meanwhile, the number of single people recorded as "unsheltered," living in emergency shelters or transitional housing actually decreased 6 percent. That figure for families was up 15.3 percent.
Two suburban Maryland counties, Frederick and Montgomery, showed significant homelessness increases of 7.3 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively, while Prince George's County showed a decrease of nearly 10 percent. The District's homeless population grew 3 percent.
The figures come from a report by Michael Ferrell, executive director of the D.C. nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, on early results of the 2009 Point-in-Time homeless count given to the board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Wednesday.
The count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of an effort to collect data on the homeless and their use of services.
A few board members said they'd expected the figures to be more extreme, given the current economic climate.
"I was pleasantly surprised that the overall increase was not higher," Ferrell said. He attributed the result to a rise in the number of permanent housing solutions available to the "chronically homeless" through programs such as the District's Housing First initiative.
It will take some time for the full effects of the foreclosure crisis and recession to appear in the homeless count, which, by HUD guidelines, does not include people forced to move in with friends or family, Ferrell said.
As great as the increases are in the Point-in-Time count, critics charge it grossly under-represents the size of the existing homeless population.
"It's virtually impossible to count all the people who are homeless in this city or anywhere else in the country," said Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "The Point-in-Time count is ... just a snapshot of the homeless who are visible on that one day of the year."
Stoops' suggestion is to determine the number of people who experienced homelessness in a 12-month period.
There will be a lag before victims of the foreclosure crisis and recession show up in shelters, Stoops predicted in an earlier interview.
"When someone has had their home foreclosed upon, they usually do have some source of income, so they downsize and move in with friends and relatives. Then they move into an RV or a campground. Then the very last thing, which they usually want to avoid, is knocking on a shelter door."
A complete report on the 2009 Point-in-Time findings should be released sometime in May.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.