credit: Jonathan Lopez/Flickr

A newly-released report on homelessness in the metropolitan Washington region reveals that homelessness in the area has increased over the past year, most notably in Washington, DC.

According to the report conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee, homelessness in DC  increased 13 percent over the past year and accounts for 65 percent of the total homelessness throughout the entire metropolitan region.

Although “there is no one simple answer” as to why the homeless population in Washington increased, “lack of affordable housing is the number one problem,” said Michael Ferrell, executive director of the District of Columbia Coalition for the Homeless.

Other factors contributing to homelessness in Washington are the high poverty levels and low wages.

“The availability of living wage jobs remains a key obstacle to ending homelessness, even for those individuals who are already employed,” states the report.

Family homelessness was also of particular concern in the District,  where family homelessness has increased by 50 percent since 2010. Eighty percent of  homeless families in Washington receive welfare aid from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), according to Ferrell, who  described the increase in family homelessness as “unprecedented.”

The number of homeless families in the metropolitan region increased 11 percent since 2013.

Of the eight other jurisdictions included in the report, seven recorded decreases in their homeless populations. Loudon County was the only other area with an increase in homelessness, but the number grew by such a small value (13 people) that the change was not considered significant.

Overall, homelessness increased by 3.5 percent throughout the entire region since 2013. The regions that reported the greatest decreases in homelessness were Arlington, Fairfax, and Montgomery Counties, with Arlington having the most dramatic decrease at 39 percent.

The number of homeless people counted as a percentage of the region’s total population remained unchanged at .23 percent.  Ferrell said this level of stability is “encouraging.”

He credited efforts by communities across the region to move chronically homeless people into permanent supportive housing programs with helping to prevent a larger increase in homelessness.

“Overall, jurisdictions should be commended for attempts to provide permanent supportive housing,”

Since 2010, the number of people in permanent supportive housing has increased 35 percent.

The recommendations to further reduce homelessness include the continued implementation of the Housing First model, rapid re-housing, subsidies for low-income families, shelter diversion programs, more living wage jobs, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing.

As stated in the report, “the greatest barrier to ending homelessness in our communities is a lack of fixed, affordable permanent housing opportunities for the lowest income households.”

The challenges the metropolitan region faces in its battle against homelessness is uncertainty in the federal budget, cuts into grant funding, the limited availability of housing choice vouchers, the disappearance of affordable housing and increasing housing prices.