Is D.C. really curbing homelessness?

Graphic depicting a housed family.

The number of homeless people in Washington, D.C., dropped about 10 percent, from 8,350 in January 2016 to 7,473 last year.

But I wouldn’t get too excited about the 2017 decrease until I see proof that we’ve broken out of the glitch pattern that has rendered a net decrease of just 780 homeless people (9.45 percent) from 2004 to 2017. That’s 60 fewer homeless people per year, which puts us on track to end homelessness by 2142.

If we learn in May 2018 that homelessness dropped almost 900 people again, to roughly 6,600 as of this month, then D.C. voters are likely to give Mayor Muriel Bowser high marks.

Bowser’s policies, which gave families greater access to shelter, caused those who needed it during her predecessor’s administration to come out of the woodwork and bring the 2016 count

slightly above the estimate for 2004. It would be commendable if the city saw successive decreases for the first time in 11 years and if those decreases totaled over 1,500.

People in general know intuitively that affordable housing is the solution to homelessness for any able-bodied person, though the issues faced by the disabled and those with employment challenges are more nuanced.

Though I tout the recent decrease, people tell me that they sense an increase in homelessness. It might just be that people from the encampments that Bowser is shutting down are coming into plain sight. Even so, in June, voters will remember having been inundated with articles about Bowser’s homelessness plan. They’ll learn the results of the count in May and vote in the Democratic primary the following month. They’ll judge her leadership ability by how well she did on her pet project, which makes it imperative for Bowser to consider the perceptions that she is creating and to have the difficult but important conversations about breaking the 13-year-long glitch pattern.

Otherwise, she’ll join the list of D.C. mayors who have lost their reelection bids since I moved here in 2005.

Eric Sheptock is a “homeless homeless advocate” in the District.

Issues |Housing Vouchers|Living Unsheltered|Permanent Supportive Housing|Political commentary|Welfare

Region |Washington DC

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