SILVER SPRING – While this year’s Point in Time survey located 23 percent fewer homeless people here than it did the previous year, some professionals working in the field agree not all the homeless here were counted.
“The Point in Time is not the best method. I don’t hold the best stock in that number. It’s been traditionally low,” said Amanda Harris, chief of services to end and prevent homelessness with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
Still, Harris said, “I’m super excited” that the report showed a 23-percent decrease.
Volunteers spent the night of Jan. 23 combing the streets and alleys looking for people living outside. They also counted those living in shelters that night and found a total of 647 people. In last year’s study, volunteers located 840 people.
Susie Sinclair-Smith, CEO of the non-profit Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, said she was “overjoyed” with the decrease. “It’s a sign we are on the right track.”
Several years ago, the county targeted homeless veterans and now claims to have virtually ended veterans’ homelessness, meaning that whenever they find a homeless veteran, various departments and organizations work together to quickly find housing for the veteran.
Recently, in its Inside Not Outside program, the county targeted the chronically homeless, defined as an individual who has lived on the streets for at least one year or has had at least four episodes of homelessness during the previous three years and has a disability.
According to this year’s Point in Time survey released May 2, chronic homelessness decreased by 93 percent since 2015.
In the recent study, only 11 chronic homeless were counted. In 2015, there were 156.
Sinclair-Smith said it costs less to house chronically homeless people than to leave them on the street, where they stretch tax dollars by frequenting emergency rooms and jail cells when they are arrested for public nuisance crimes.
Chronically homeless people cost the county $45,000 per person per year. Finding them housing drops that cost to between $20,000 and $25,000, she said.
“It’s cost-saving, but it’s also the moral thing to do,” she said.
The county’s new goal is to end family and youth homelessness by 2010.
It is doable, she said. “We know every single person who experiences homelessness in the county. We know who these individuals are. We know what kind of housing solution they need,” Sinclair-Smith said.
Some of the homeless are living on the streets, in parks, in protected alleyways or in cars. Others sleep in the parking lot of a gym club in Gaithersburg, where for $10 a month, they have a place to shower.
Young people are harder to locate, because they often couch-surf ing with friends and family until they have to move on. They also stay in abandoned houses and live in encampments in Washington, D.C.
“That is the one area I believe we are not on top of,” Sinclair-Smith said. She estimated there are 90 young people who don’t have a permanent place to call home.
Homeless youth is a population that the county is prioritizing, Harris said.
“We are going to focus most of our efforts with family with children,” she said. The goal is to rapidly rehouse them or work with them before they become homeless. Sometimes that means working out a plan with a landlord, providing legal representation or conflict remediation, Harris said.
While Harris is pleased with the results of the survey, she noted, “That doesn’t mean the work is done. We have to keep our feet on the gas.”
County Executive Marc Elrich noted in a statement that, “We have worked hard as a community to quickly move people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing while offering support services to keep them housed, and our efforts are paying off.”
Pointing to the county’s Inside Not Outside program, Elrich said that more than 400 chronically homeless people were housed since the program began in June 2017.
“The partnership between our county programs and nonprofit partners who work every day of the year to end homelessness is a statement of the values we hold as a community,” Elrich wrote.
The Point in Time survey, which was compiled by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, found 9,794 homeless people in the Montgomery County, Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia area overall. That number is a seven-percent decrease from 2018.
According to the survey, the county experienced a 73-percent decrease since 2017 in homeless people who reported substance abuse. It also showed that households without children had a 22-percent decrease between 2018 and 2019.
The volunteers found 61 homeless families in the most-recent count. During 2018, there were 86 families.
“We’ve made tremendous progress in providing safe shelters for individuals at risk of becoming homeless while also partnering with our nonprofit community to find permanent supportive housing for those who are ready.”