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“Encouraging” Featured

Survey shows homeless population in Montgomery County continues to fall

A homeless man sleeps on the pavement in Silver Spring in July 2017. FILE PHOTOA homeless man sleeps on the pavement in Silver Spring in July 2017. FILE PHOTOThe number of homeless people in the County decreased by 6 percent, according to a survey from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. There were 54 fewer people experiencing homelessness in 2018 than in 2017.

The number of homeless people counted on Jan. 24 decreased from 894 in 2017 to 840 for this year.

“I think we are getting down to the most vulnerable. These are the hardest to house,” said Christine Hong, director of homeless services at Interfaith Works.

Volunteers throughout the Washington, D.C., area walked the streets to count the number of people experiencing homelessness. That night, they found 7,473 homeless people in the District, which is eight percent fewer than in the previous year. In Prince George’s County, the number of homeless people dropped by 10 percent.

Montgomery County has the third largest number of people experiencing homeless in the area, with only the District of Columbia and Fairfax, Virginia recording higher rates, according to the survey.

Hong called the County’s results “encouraging,” noting that in 2016, there were 981 homeless people in the County.

In this year’s count, the volunteers found 85 families experiencing homelessness, for a total of 272 people. Of the people counted, 568 were confirmed to be adults while 180 were children.

Thirteen percent of those without permanent housing that evening were 62 years and older, Hong said.

The volunteers found 18 homeless veterans, four more than in 2017. County officials have claimed victory, stating that veteran homelessness ended here in December 2015, meaning that whenever veterans are discovered to be homeless, they are placed into permanent housing within a short time.

So far this year, nine veterans have moved into housing.

The current emphasis is on ending chronic homelessness. Those considered to be chronic homeless people have lived on the streets for at least a year and have either a mental illness or a drug and alcohol problem.

“We are not talking about individuals who can submit a resume and get a job,” Hong said. Some have criminal records; others have been out of work for a long time, she added.

“These people have a long history, and sometimes they are not going to trust anybody,” Hong said. That is why Interfaith Works, the County and other nonprofits do outreach all year, meeting the homeless wherever they are and handing out snacks, water, and clean socks, working to build a relationship.

“They know us. They trust us. They will talk to us,” Hong said.

Montgomery County experienced the greatest reduction of the number of chronically homeless single adults in the area from 2014 to 2018.

“We are almost there,” Hong said, about the goal to end chronic homelessness.

Besides chronic homelessness, the County also is striving to end homelessness among young people.

More affordable housing is needed to end homelessness here, she said.

Besides helping to find permanent housing, Interfaith Works strives to assist individuals before they end up on the street, getting involved before eviction is inevitable, Hong said.

Through various County and nonprofit facilities, such as Progress Place in Silver Spring, County residents can receive a free meal, take a shower, and obtain medical and vocational assistance, Hong noted.

“I am pleased that our efforts to enhance services to the homeless and to move individuals and families into permanent housing are having success,” County Executive Isiah Leggett wrote in a press release. 

“We have worked hard through our commitment to the Inside/Not Outside effort to house every chronically homeless individual and to reallocate resources towards permanent housing. Our work is not over, but I applaud the efforts of our County programs and nonprofit partners who work every day of the year to reduce homelessness in our community,” Leggett wrote.

Federal housing vouchers and County and nonprofit efforts to find and then help people into their own homes are the main reasons the numbers continue to drop, according to Council member George Leventhal.

Also noted in the survey is that 66 people admitted to substance abuse, a 37-percent decrease from last year.

This is the 18th year of the area’s point-in-time homeless survey. The survey includes people living on the streets, in parks, alleys and campsites, those staying in emergency shelters, and those living in transitional housing and receiving services.

Also included in the count were formerly homeless people who now live in permanent housing but are still receiving services.

@SuzannePollak

 

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