Credit: Logo from Council of Governments Twitter page

The number of homeless people counted on one day in January 2021 was 14% lower than a year earlier, according to a new report.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), a regional nonprofit, released the report last week.

The report, known as the point-in-time count, is an annual survey COG conducts, trying to count the number of residents experiencing homelessness in nine jurisdictions within the region.

The jurisdictions surveyed are:

  • Montgomery County
  • Prince George’s County
  • Frederick County
  • Fairfax County, Va.
  • Arlington County, Va.
  • City of Alexandria, Va.
  • Loudoun County, Va.
  • Prince William County, Va.
  • District of Columbia

In this year’s count on Jan. 27, there were 577 homeless people counted in Montgomery County, compared to 670 on Jan. 22, 2020, according to the report.

 



Seven of the nine jurisdictions had a decrease, with Loudoun County (55%) and the City of Alexandria (49%) at the top of the list.

The number of homeless people counted in 2021 increased in Prince George’s and Fairfax counties.

This year’s report also found that Montgomery County experienced the second-largest decrease in homeless people reported in four years of the nine jurisdictions. There were 317 fewer homeless people counted this year than in 2017 — a decrease of 35%.

The point-in-time count includes those who are unsheltered and living on the streets, those staying in emergency shelters and people in transitional housing. The report also has information on how many people are no longer experiencing homelessness.

Of Montgomery County’s homeless people counted this year:

  • 68% were single adults in a shelter
  • 12% were single adults unsheltered
  • 11% were children in families
  • 6% were adults in families
  • 3% were unaccompanied youths

The report states that Montgomery County officials attribute the decrease in homelessness to an “influx” of resources at the local, state and federal level in homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing, as well as better tenant protections and a shelter diversion program that started in 2018.

The county also created a Homeless Prevention Index to identify communities that are most at risk, which uses factors such as job loss, overcrowding, rates of low-income renters and the number of positive COVID-19 cases to determine which areas need more help.

Montgomery County officials note in the report that they took additional steps to reduce homelessness in response to the pandemic that include:

  • Increasing the number of year-round emergency shelter beds for single adults from 140 to 300
  • Implementing a centralized shelter “intake and diverse program” for single adults seeking emergency shelter, which aims to divert at least 25% of people from homelessness.
  • Using federal, state and local money to create new programs aimed at reducing homelessness, such as the Exit Bonus program, which provides $5,000 to newly homeless individuals exiting shelters.

COG’s point-in-time survey uses the Homeless Management Information System database to track the homeless population in shelters, and surveyors to count the unsheltered.

This year’s report notes that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, surveyors took precautions such as using personal protective equipment, undergoing health screenings and maintaining physical distancing. Some jurisdictions either used only volunteers with prior experience or relied solely on trained outreach workers and other service providers to count the unsheltered.

“Two jurisdictions conducted abbreviated surveys to reduce the amount of time people would be exposed to each other for each interaction,” the report states.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com