2018 | News

Yearlong Project Documents 89 Long-Term Homeless People Near Downtown Silver Spring

During Bethesda Cares’ 12-month outreach program, 26 people were moved into permanent housing

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Homeless residents sleep outside of a Metro station in Silver Spring.

A “first-of-its-kind” report on homelessness in downtown Silver Springrevealed that 89 people lived on the street for more than a month during a yearlong stretch.

John Mendez, executive director of Bethesda Cares, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness in Montgomery County, said Tuesday the report is different than typical point-in-time headcounts of the homeless population because it identified those people who slept on the streets for 30 or more days.

Members of a Bethesda Cares street outreach team canvassed the downtown area each day between 5 and 10 a.m. from May 2017 through April to find people sleeping in the streets, parking garages or other places not meant for human habitation.

The report focused on the area within a 1-mile radius of downtown Silver Spring.

Mendez said typical point-in-time censuses of homeless populations are appropriate snapshots of homelessness, but have limitations. Bethesda Cares aimed to identify how many people were consistently homeless in the area, and were likely to remain so without intervention. “If there’s no intervention at all, those people are going to be dead in the street,” Mendez said.

Life on the street is hard—particularly for long stretches, Mendez said. Concerns about the homeless include regular sleep deprivation and bad nutrition. The winter season of 2017-2018 was an especially difficult time for homeless populations, with several polar vortex temperature drops.

In identifying homeless individuals to help, Mendez said sometimes the overriding concern becomes “Who’s most likely to die?”

Bethesda Cares identified the following statistics for those individuals who were homeless in the Silver Spring area for 30 days or more:

  • 72 percent were men, compared to 28 percent women;
  • 52 percent were black and 34 percent were white. Eleven percent of those identified described themselves as Hispanic;
  • 20 were 62 or older;
  • 73 percent self-reported a mental illness or were observed with mental health symptoms;
  • 72 were identified as chronically homeless, meaning they had been continuously homeless for a year or more;
  • 26 received housing during the reporting period, 19 of them through Montgomery County’s Housing Initiative Program;
  • 43 limited their travel to the immediate Silver Spring area, while 23 others frequently traveled to other places including D.C. and Prince George’s County;
  • 31 people left the Silver Spring area and did not return during the reporting period; and
  • Two people identified through data-gathering died after being transferred to hospitals or nursing home care, Mendez said.

The data was collected between May 1, 2017, and April 30. Some of the datasets are incomplete, based on a person’s willingness to respond.

There were still about 30 people identified as consistently homeless in downtown Silver Spring at the end of the reporting period. The report predicts, based on the data, that an additional 12 people will become chronically homeless in downtown Silver Spring over the next six months.

Bethesda Cares was able to expand its street outreach operations in downtown Silver Spring through funding from Montgomery County government, with some additional funding from small private donations.

The report credits the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services for the expanded outreach efforts and for housing subsidies that target help for chronically homeless people.

Mendez said the county as a whole has made strides to reach a shared goal of ending homelessness, but he thinks a sense of urgency has dwindled with time.

“They’ve come a long way–and now we want them to finish the job,” Mendez said.