Homelessness and Poverty in DC

Bus stopWho is homeless?

  • Approximately 15,000 people are homeless in Washington DC over the course of a year, one of the highest rates in the country and 5 times higher than the national average.
  • At the height of the family shelter crisis in 2014 12,231 families who were homeless with 2,236 children were in the DC shelter system.  Many more were doubled up with friends or sleeping on the street.
  • 15% of the DC unaccompanied homeless population reported chronic substance abuse and 13.3% severe mental illness, 10.3% suffer from chronic health problems, 16.9% have a physical disability.
  • 10.3% of homeless individuals in DC are military veterans.
  • 19.3% of single homeless adults are employed.

Why are so many homeless?

  • 30% of DC children under 18 live at or below the poverty line ($22,000 for a family of four). The poverty rate for all DC residents (2013) was 18.6%, one of the highest rates in the country.
  • In the District a worker earning the minimum wage ($9.50/hour) must work approximately 118 hours per week, 52 weeks a year or earn $28/hour at 40 hours a week, to afford a 2 bedroom apartment at market rate ($1458/month).
  • The DC unemployment rate is over 7%, much higher than the surrounding metropolitan area.

 Is there enough shelter?

  •  Year round there are approximately 2,256 emergency shelter beds for single adults in DC and 406 emergency shelter units for families .
  • For most applicants the wait for emergency family shelter is at least 6 months.
  • Between November 2013 and March 2014 alone, 1,172 families applied for emergency shelter.

Is there enough housing?

  • Washington DC is the least affordable jurisdiction among all states in the US, in terms of housing costs.  Its rental market has only a 3.5% vacancy rate, one of the lowest in the country.
  • 80% of extremely low income DC households (incomes less than 30% of area median income), and more than half of all DC households, pay more than 30% of their income for rent.  This is by definition “unaffordable.”
  • The typical low income household spends almost 70% of their income on housing.
  •  The number of low-cost rental units in DC has dropped by 50% since 2000.
  • As of April 2013 there were a total of 41,000 households on the wait list for the DC Housing Authority’s Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher Program.  25,000 on the wait list describe themselves as homeless.
  • The number of public housing units in the city has decreased by 4,000 units since 2000 to only 8000 units in 2010. The average voucher wait is 20 years.

Success story:  the number of persons who were homeless who now reside in Permanent Supportive Housing (housing accompanied by supportive services) includes 4,230 unaccompanied adults, and 1,128 families with 1,514 adults and 1,879 children.

Data collected and documented by the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.  June 2015.  More complete information.