Emergency Housing The Problem in Washington, DC

Who is Homeless?
More than 15,000 people are homeless in Washington, DC over the course of a typical year, one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. On a single night in January 2013, 6,865 persons in the city were counted as homeless, 512 of whom were unsheltered and 473 of whom are Veterans.  As of January, 2013, there were almost 4,000 people in 983 homeless families in emergency shelter in DC, as well as many more who were doubled up with acquaintances or sleeping on the street. The number of homeless families in DC has increased by almost 40% since 2009.

There are more than 1,600 homeless youth in Washington, DC over the course of a given year, far exceeding the 77 beds specifically reserved for homeless youth in D.C. In a 2011 survey of 500 unaccompanied youth in DC, 77% reported being homeless within the past 2 weeks.

There were at least 1,868 homeless children in Washington, DC as of 20136, not counting those who are in families that are doubled up with others or sleeping on the streets.
Among unaccompanied (single) homeless persons in DC, 32% report a history of substance abuse, and 28% severe mental illness; 12% suffer from chronic health problems, and 23% are physically disabled. In homeless families, only 8% of adults have a substance abuse problem, and 11% suffer from mental illness.

All of these conditions are exacerbated by homelessness.

  • 45% of unaccompanied homeless adults in DC reported no income of any kind as of Jan. 2013.
  • 20% of homeless single adults in DC, and 25% of adults in homeless families were employed as of January, 2013.
  • 15% of homeless individuals in DC are veterans, and 31% of those in homeless families have been victims of domestic violence.

Why are so many homeless?

  • 30% of DC children under 18 live at or below the poverty line, which is $22,000 for a family of four. The poverty rate for all DC residents increased in 2010 to 19.9%, the third highest poverty rate in the nation.
  • In the District, a worker earning the Minimum Wage ($8.25 per hour) must work approximately 132 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, or earn $27/hour at 40 hours a week, to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent, which is $1,412 per month.
  • As of March,2013, the unemployment rate in Washington DC was 8.3%, much higher than the rate for the surrounding metropolitan area.15 Homeless individuals with no phone or permanent address stand a slim chance competing for jobs in an already tight job market.
  • DC’s TANF (welfare) benefits are inadequate to meet the needs of District families, and have only increased twice since the 1980s, with a family of three now receiving $428 a month.16 DC recently cut benefits by 20 percent for families that have received assistance for 60 months or longer from $428 to $342.

In DC, more than 18,000 families, including 72% of homeless families, receive TANF as their primary source of income.

  • The maximum Food Stamps available in Washington, DC is $200/month for 1 person; $367 for 2 people; and $526 for 3 persons, and is even less for those who get TANF or SSI.
  • 4% of DC’s total population and 35% of its children rely on Food Stamps as their only source of nutrition, an increase of 56% since 2006.
  • Social Security Disability (SSI) benefits, the sole source of income for more than 15,000 disabled DC residents, is $710/month, which constitutes only 17% of area median income and is equivalent to $4.36/hour in wages. It takes an average of 2 years after applying to obtain these benefits, yet the only DC benefits available for disabled adults is Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) of $270/month, which has a wait list. 

Is there enough shelter?

  • Year round, there are 2,259 emergency shelter beds for unaccompanied single adults in DC, and only 443 emergency shelter units for families.
  •  In 2011, a total of 1,991 families applied for emergency shelter, yet only a small percentage of them were placed, with the rest left to fend for themselves.
  • For most applicants, the wait for emergency family shelter is at least 6 months with most families only being sheltered during “Hypothermia Season”. Between Nov. 2012 and March 2013 alone, 661 families applied for emergency shelter, 240 of which were turned away.
  • 15% of unaccompanied homeless respondents in an April 2009 survey were forced to sleep on the streets due to shelters being full, and 40% refused to enter shelters due to overcrowding. On average, homeless individuals were turned away from emergency shelter 25 times each night.

Is there enough housing? 

  • Washington, DC is the least affordable housing jurisdiction in the country when compared to other “states”. At the same time, DC’s rental market has only a 3.5% vacancy rate, the third lowest in the country, and market rents are unaffordable even for middle class workers such as police officers and teachers.
  •  80% of extremely low income residents of DC (less than 30% of area median income), and almost half of all DC households, pay more than 30% of their income for rent, which by definition is unaffordable.
  • 65% of extremely low income households, and 20% of all DC households, spend more than 50% of their income on rent, an increase of more than 15,000 households since 2000, with the typical low income household spending almost 70% of income on housing.
  •  As of April, 2013 there were approximately 70,000 households on the wait list for the DC Housing Authority’s Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher Programs, 25,000 of which list themselves as homeless. Yet, DC’s public housing stock has decreased by 4,000 units since 2000, to only 8,000 total, and DCHA’s 12,800 Housing Choice Vouchers rarely turn over, making the average wait for a voucher 20 years.
  • Since the year 2000, the number of low-cost rental units in D.C. has dropped by 50%.

30 Meanwhile, the number of rental units in the city costing more than the median rent have tripled. In fact, rents in DC grew more during the recession of 2007-2010 than in the preceding 7 years.

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