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On one single day last January, outreach workers and volunteers with clipboards and questionnaires found 6,954 homeless people, including 1,880 children, living in District shelters and streets.

Homelessness is up by 6 percent this year in the city, according to the newly released preliminary results of an annual homeless count conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).

The figures showed a very slight decrease in homelessness for the metropolitan region as a whole. A total of 11,830 homeless people were included in this year’s survey of Washington and its suburbs in Maryland and Virginia — down 0.4 percent since 2011.

Yet while the count found fewer homeless single men and women (6,204, down 443 from last year), it included more homeless families region wide.

The annual count has charted a steady increase in homelessness among families throughout the region since the recession year of 2008.

Over the past four years “we’ve seen an increase of about 23 percent among people in families,” said Michael Ferrell, chairman of COG’s Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee. “It’s also a national trend.”

A total of 5,611 homeless men, women and children living in families throughout the region were included in this year’s count, up 405 individuals since last year. In addition, 15 unaccompanied youth were also counted.

The District claimed the majority of homeless people living in families. The city reported 3,187 homeless people living in 1,014 family units in 2012, up from 2,688 men, women and children in 858 families last year. As in many places across the country, the rise in homeless families has overwhelmed the District’s homeless shelter system in recent years (see accompanying story).

Homeless children, numbering 3,388, accounted for 29 percent of the region’s homeless population.

As in past years, many of their parents were working, according to the preliminary findings for 2012. Regionally, 35 percent of homeless adults in families are employed. Among homeless singles, 19 percent have jobs. The number of working homeless adults has declined since last year—an indication that the effects of the economic downturn continue to be felt, Ferrell said.

Yet overall, the fact that in some wealthy suburbs up to 60 percent of homeless parents are working, shows the income of such low-wage workers “is not large enough to afford housing,” Ferrell added. “They fall into the category of the working poor.”

COG has overseen the homeless count for the past 12 years, and data for this year’s report was collected on Jan. 25. As in previous years, teams of enumerators canvassed city shelters, rural campsites, abandoned buildings, parks, street corners and soup kitchens, systematically interviewing the homeless to garner the biographical information that would be compiled into the annual “snapshot” of the region’s homeless population. The annual report helps the district and suburban jurisdictions plan ways to address the emergency and longer-term needs of the homeless.

“This is a critically important tool,” said J. Walter Tejada, an Arlington County board member who serves on COG’s Human Services and Public Safety Policy Committee.

Without permanent supportive housing efforts aimed at getting chronically homeless individuals off the streets, out of the shelter system and into stable housing, the numbers would have been worse, Ferrell said.

Regionally, the number of formerly homeless people residing in permanent supportive housing has nearly doubled since 2008. The 2012 count found, 8,657 people living in such programs, up from 4,395 four years ago.

Permanent supportive housing “is the main reason that the number of people counted as homeless did not increase,” said Ferrell.

Such programs, which offer assistance with the mental, physical and educational disabilities that contribute to homelessness, actually cost less than paying for the shelter beds and crisis and correctional services that the indigent would typically otherwise use, studies have found.

Yet faced with development and economic pressures, jurisdictions are finding it difficult to sustain and expand long-term programs that help chronically homeless people rebuild their lives, said George Leventhal, a Montgomery County Council member who chairs COG’s Human Services and Public Safety Committee.

“You can get them off the streets, but getting them to be self-sufficient goes on for years,” he said. “The challenge now is that we are almost maxed out.” A full report on this year’s homeless

enumeration, with more detailed information about homeless subpopulations and individual jurisdictions, is expected in May.