On April 21, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced in the front-entrance parking lot of D.C. Housing Authority headquarters the results of the District’s 2022 point in time (PIT) study. The PIT count is an annual count of the number of sheltered and unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness in the city on a single night. The numbers reported on Thursday from this year’s survey, which took place on January 26, showed that homelessness in the District had decreased overall.
The number of individuals experiencing homelessness in D.C. had not only decreased for the sixth year in a row, but was also down to its lowest point in 17 years, Mayor Bowser said. Single adult homelessness decreased by 12%, and family homelessness was down by 14%.
However, the study also revealed an increase in homelessness within some subgroups.
The number of veterans experiencing homelessness had increased by 11%, Laura Zeilinger, director of the Department of Human Services (DHS), said in a Q&A session following official remarks. The number of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness had also increased by 8%, Zeilinger said. But DHS has taken this as a sign that more homeless youth are being seen by outreach services, Zeilinger added.
Mayor Bowser said that although the 2022 PIT count results are good news, there is still more work to do. The mayor pointed to the need to improve the city’s single adult shelter system, and added that more people are living in encampments today than before the pandemic.
In her remarks at last Thursday’s press conference, Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 councilmember and chair of the Human Services Committee, said that the 2022 PIT count results were a reflection of an “incredible amount of effort” across all sectors in the District.
“I just want to thank everybody here for the incredible partnership that has brought us to this day,” Nadeau said.
In an interview with Street Sense Media, Christy Respress, executive director of Pathways to Housing D.C, said because homelessness is in part an economic challenge, the city’s increased investments in ending chronic homelessness also played a key role in yielding the PIT count numbers revealed on April 21.
The mayor’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget included $31 million for supporting Homeward D.C. 2.0, which was presented in July 2021 as the latest iteration of the District’s official plan for making homelessness “rare, brief and nonrecurring.” That $31 million includes funding for more permanent supportive housing vouchers and the creation of a more streamlined intake system for single adults experiencing homelessness. Also included in the mayor’s new budget is $114.6 million for shelter renovations.
But even with adequate investments in permanent supportive housing, if there are too many roadblocks and barriers in place for moving people into housing, the numbers of residents experiencing homelessness won’t budge, Respress said.
That’s why, she said, a major factor in the overall decrease of homelessness in the District are the pandemic-era policy changes that have expedited the process for moving people into permanent supportive housing.
One such policy innovation is the use of PEP-V hotels as a tool to help people transition out of homelessness, she said.
The PEP-V program, or the Pandemic Emergency Protection for Medically Vulnerable Individuals Program, allows unhoused District residents with exceptional vulnerability to COVID-19 to stay in hotel rooms instead of traditional congregate shelters.
With a hotel room, meals and on-site case management, individuals can shift their focus from day-to-day survival to securing a housing voucher and getting all of their paperwork in place, Respress said.
She also pointed to steps taken by the D.C. Housing Authority and DHS to reduce barriers for moving people quickly into housing. Those include reducing certain ID requirements and holding virtual briefings that don’t force housing candidates to attend in person, she said.
Respress echoed the mayor’s sentiment that, even with the progress revealed by the 2022 PIT count numbers, there is still more work to be done.
“If we’re not moving upstream, and preventing people from entering homelessness in the first place, we will have our next generation of people experiencing chronic homelessness,” she said.
To ensure that homelessness is not just rare, brief and nonrecurring, but that it does not occur at all, the city and the federal government must do more to ensure that housing is affordable and accessible for all, she said.
“We firmly believe, especially in our city, that homelessness is a solvable problem,” Mayor Bowser told the crowd.