Homelessness in Montgomery County decreased by 9 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to an annual survey conducted by Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
According to the survey, which was a one-night snapshot of the homeless population on Jan. 25 of this year, there were 894 homeless people in the County, as compared to 981 in 2016 and 1,100 in 2015.
The 894 people included 86 families and 172 children, according to the survey.
The survey, in its 17th year, tallied the homeless population in nine jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C. area. Overall, there were 11,128 homeless individuals in the nine jurisdictions, according to the survey which was released last week.
Amanda Harris, Montgomery County’s chief of special needs housing in its Department of Health and Human Services, called the numbers in the survey “typical,” although the survey noted that day was unseasonably warm.
The report listed 159 adults in the County who are chronically homeless. That is a 5 percent increase over last year’s 151.
However, Harris said the number of chronically homeless people may be higher; she has counted 274.
The chronically homeless – who have a disability and have been homeless for at least a year or four different times during three years for a total of one year – make up 25 to 30 percent of the County’s homeless residents.
Most of the chronically homeless live in the downtown Silver Spring area, Harris said. That is one of the reasons Progress Place was opened at the end of 2016. It includes 21 living quarters for the chronically homeless, who can then find the services they need in the same building.
“These are the folks that cost us the most money,” she said, because “they need the most services.”
Despite the numbers, Harris is “confident we can end chronic homelessness by the end of the year.” Her office is aware of these people, and 10 outreach employees are working closely with them.
Ending chronic homelessness means that there are three or less people in that condition here, she said.
The majority of County residents who are homeless are usually without a permanent place to live for short periods of time, Harris said.
She called the overall 9 percent decrease in homelessness here “good,” but added, “There still is a lot of work to be done.”
Basically, there are three categories that homeless people fall into, she said. One consists of the long-term homeless who need the most support.
The next category is for those who face problems, but with help, can overcome their difficulties, Harris said. Job coaching is one area that can really help a person land a job and then have enough money for rent.
The third category consists of those who need specific intervention, Harris said, including receiving an apartment security deposit to get them started or getting a monthly supplement to help out.
“We have a fairly significant number of people who are working” but not able to pay for a place to live, she said, adding the County doesn’t have enough affordable housing vouchers for everyone.
Also, she said, Montgomery County is an expensive place to live.
The survey referred to that, noting, “Montgomery County continues to experience high housing costs which make it difficult for households to obtain and maintain permanent housing.”
While the chronically homeless tend to be found in Silver Spring, the others “are fairly evenly distributed” throughout the rest of the County, Harris said.
She has not noticed an increase in homelessness due to the federal government’s crackdown on illegal immigrants but added that probably would not have an effect this soon.
Harris is optimistic the County can end homelessness in 2020. The plan is not to find temporary housing but rather to find permanent solutions for the area’s homeless.
Currently, Montgomery County has 540 beds for households without children, and 317 beds for families with children, according to the survey.