Rates of homelessness in DC region climb for the second year in a row, according to the 2024 PIT count

A graph shows a rise in regions literally and formally homelessness.

More people now live in supportive housing programs in the region, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Visualization by Leela Waehrer

Homelessness increased in Washington, D.C. by 14% over 2023, according to this year’s Point-In-Time (PIT) Count results, released in May. Homelessness is up 12% across the region, and older residents are the fastest-growing group of unhoused people.

This is the second consecutive year homelessness has risen in the District, after several years of reductions since the city released its first plan to end homelessness in 2016. Last year, homelessness increased 11.6% in D.C. and 18% in the region.

Every year, communities across the United States participate in the PIT Count to measure the scope of homelessness on a single night. The 2024 PIT Count for the D.C. region took place on Jan. 24. Volunteers surveyed people who are unsheltered and living outside or staying in emergency shelters.

The results come as the nation awaits the looming verdict in the Supreme Court case, Johnson v. Grants Pass, which will impact the rights of people who are unhoused and unsheltered nationwide. Locally, the D.C. Council will soon take its final vote on the fiscal year 2025 budget, which includes limited funds for preventing and ending homelessness.

Flaws with the PIT Count

Data from the PIT Count is not 100% accurate, according to the United States Government Accountability Office. Still, it’s the only nationwide measure of how homelessness changes over the years. The PIT Count, by nature, is a count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night. The transitory nature of homelessness means the PIT Count doesn’t reflect homelessness throughout a full year.

In D.C., local data often shows at least twice as many people experience homelessness over a year as are counted in the PIT. The PIT Count also relies on the definition of homelessness set forth by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is narrow and excludes, for instance, people experiencing homelessness but staying with a family member.

A report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in 2017 titled “Don’t Count on It: How the HUD Point-inTime Count Underestimates the Homelessness Crisis in America,” highlights how the data collection methods can also lead to inaccuracies, given the PIT Count relies on volunteers to carry out the survey. The report says the methods used by HUD and/or PIT Count volunteers can lead to a significant undercount, missing people who may be living in their cars, or residing in places not explored by those conducting the count.

The raw data

A total of 9,774 people were experiencing homelessness in the D.C. region at the time the PIT Count was conducted, according to a report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). Eight jurisdictions in the area were included in this count, and nearly all reported an increase in people experiencing homelessness between 2023 and 2024.

This year, D.C. accounts for 5,616 of those unhoused on the night of the PIT Count, according to the report. Rates of homelessness in D.C. increased the most amoung jurisdictions in the region.

On May 13, D.C.’s Department of Human Services (DHS) shared the results of the 2024 count. Despite the rise in homelessness last year, the press release said out homelessness is 12% lower than in 2020, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. D.C. and Alexandria are the only jurisdictions where
homelessness has not increased between 2020 and 2024, according to the PIT Count.

In the District, homelessness among unaccompanied individuals increased 6% from 2023, and homelessness among families increased 39%. D.C.’s past reductions in homelessness were largely based on changes in the family system. Family homelessness remains 30% lower from 2020, pre-pandemic. 2024 is the second consecutive year homelessness rose in D.C., despite efforts and interventions to support those unhoused in the area, such as funding for housing vouchers and rental assistance programs.

Across the last two years, a higher percentage of people experienced homelessness in the District for the first time, DHS Director Laura Zellinger said in the May 13 press release. DHS is, for the coming year, committed to continuing to “build on and invest in proven solutions and innovative approaches to enhance our system for District residents facing homelessness,” said Zellinger.

Trends in data

A notable trend in this year’s data is that when compared against other age groups, the greatest share of single adults experiencing homelessness in the D.C. region were above the age of 55. On the evening of the 2024 PIT Count, two individuals over the age of 90 were housed in emergency shelters. This is in line with national trends, where older adults are the fastest-growing age group experiencing homelessness, making up nearly half of all unhoused people. As the region’s population continues aging, providers will need to adjust their responses to homelessness to better meet the needs of older adults, according to a press release from COG.

Data obtained from the COG, which compares literally and formerly homeless statistics in the greater Metropolitan Washington area, shows while the numbers of those literally homeless rose from 2022 and 2023 according to this year’s PIT Count, the number of people in Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Rehousing, or other permanent housing has increased by over 10,000 since 2023.

In this context, to be literally homeless is to be lacking a fixed or adequate nighttime residence or shelter, according to HUD.

In the greater D.C. region, the number of people who are in permanent housing and no longer experiencing homelessness has increased by 57 percent since 2020, according to COG. In 2024, 13,956 people were in Rapid Rehousing programs, 15,592 people were in Permanent Supportive Housing programs, and 5,342 people were in other permanent housing.

Homelessness increased among several groups in the region. In the D.C. region, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness found in the PIT Count was 328, a 3% rise from 2023.

D.C. saw an increase in those unhoused who are LGBTQ+, with 12% of those surveyed identifying as LGBTQ+. Regionally, 527 people surveyed identified as being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, an increase from the 349 people who self-identified in the 2023 count, and the 347 people in 2022.

With respect to racial demographics, systemic and historical disparities persist. Black residents continue to be the largest racial group experiencing homelessness, making up 67% of single adults surveyed on the night of the 2024 PIT Count. That disparity is even more severe in D.C., where nearly 85% of those experiencing homelessness are Black, according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

What drove this year’s rise?

The most pressing question from the 2024 PIT Count is: what has caused the surge in homelessness in the nation’s capital for the second year in a row?

One factor is the affordable housing crisis. D.C. has continued to face a chronic shortage of affordable housing options in recent years as rent rapidly rises and there is glaring economic insecurity and troubles for lower and middle-income working residents, despite wage increases. Inflation continues to outpace wage growth, causing economic stress for many.

Economic instability and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic also persist. An end to COVID-era housing protections such as eviction moratoriums and Emergency Rental Assistance Programs (ERAP), supported by federal pandemic relief funding, have led to a 3% increase in homelessness between 2020- 2024, according to the COG. As COVID-era housing protections have ended, the amount of people experiencing homelessness has risen.

In D.C., funding for many homelessness programs peaked in the few years following the pandemic, including funding for housing vouchers. However, investments have declined over the last year, and in 2023, DHS was subject to budget cuts, which providers warned could affect many programs.There is more need than there are substantial and sustained investments in programs that are serving this need, said Rodney Lusk, chair of the COG Human Services Policy Committee and Fairfax County board member, in a press release by COG on May 15.

What can D.C. do to combat increases?

While the PIT Count is an imperfect measurement of homelessness, it informs policy budgets and public attitudes for the year following its release.

Given that the PIT count is used largely to determine how resources and funds are diverted towards addressing homelessness in a given city or area, the 2023 and now 2024 count, if anything, demonstrate a need for more consistent efforts to support unhoused residents of D.C. and the Metropolitan Washington area at large, advocates and providers say. While investments towards programs and resources are included in the 2025 FY budget, the funding “falls wildly short of the need, especially given the surge in homelessness,” according to a blog post by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

D.C. faces an uphill battle in addressing the needs of those unhoused in 2025. As the fiscal year 2025 budget is finalized, the ongoing crisis of homelessness looms large. Despite Mayor Muriel Bowser’s stated commitment to increasing investments to address the needs of residents experiencing housing instability, funding for programs aimed at preventing and ending homelessness is at risk.

As it stands, the budget before the D.C. Council provides for investments in strategies to address homelessness, including but not limited to: $26.9 million for ERAP, $80 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund, and funds for over 450 housing vouchers. It is notable that Bowser, in 2015, committed to allotting at least $100 million annually for HPTF. Generally, funding for addressing homelessness in D.C. remains lower than in previous years.

Should cuts persist as they did in 2024, it is likely that by the 2025 PIT Count, there will be no positive progress in lowering the rates of unhoused D.C. residents, warn the Way Home Campaign and similar budget advocacy groups. Advocates and D.C. Council members say that if there are no changes soon, things will not get better. As a May 31 article by Miriam’s Kitchen put it, “Housing saves lives, but only if we fund it.”

Issues |Housing|LGBTQ|Living Unsheltered|Senior Citizens|Social Services

Region |Maryland|Virginia|Washington DC

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