Editorial: Counting Homeless; Solution Is Housing

Editorial: Counting Homeless; Solution Is Housing

Results of the annual census of homeless show progress, persistence of the problem, and some worrying trends.

On the night of Jan. 28, 2015, there were 1,204 people who were literally homeless in the Fairfax County area.

Of those, 715 were people in 213 homeless families, with 431 homeless children; 347 of those children were under 12. Sixty-two percent of the adults in these homeless families are employed, but don’t earn enough to avoid becoming homeless. Domestic violence was identified as the cause of homelessness for 41 percent of the people counted in homeless families. Women made up 78 percent of the adults in homeless families.

Men accounted for 77 percent of the single homeless people.

Of the single homeless people, 55 percent, 268 people, are identified as having serious mental illness; 203, or 42 percent were identified as chronically homeless.

Twenty-five percent of the single homeless individuals were employed.

Eight percent were were veterans. Four percent, or 21, were former foster children.

Some troubling trends:

This year, 123 or 25 percent of the single homeless people were over 55.

This year, 52 or 11 percent of the single homeless people were transitional adults, aged 18-24.

This year, 58 percent of homeless individuals in families and 43 percent of single homeless people counted were African American. This is disproportionate to the overall African American population of 9.7 percent.

This year marks a reduction of 21 homeless people, or approximately 2 percent reduction over the previous count in 2014. It is a decrease of 34 percent since 2008 when there were 1,835 literally homeless people counted, including 1,091 in families. The Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness credits adoption of housing first and rapid rehousing models, heightened prevention efforts and prioritizing housing for longest and most vulnerable homeless for continuing decrease.

What’s needed is more affordable housing, more housing affordable to those with very low income, more affordable housing designated for formerly homeless people with the supports they need. Without a commitment to more affordable housing, it will be impossible to continue to reduce the number of homeless people in the region.

It’s critical to note that that those who are literally homeless are a small part of the problem, In terms of preventing homelessness, literally thousands of families live at risk of becoming homeless in our region. Very high housing costs combined with the growth of low-wage service jobs mean that many families are one unexpected bill away from homelessness. Nonprofits in the county play a huge role in preventing homelessness by responding to crises.

As the development of the Silver Line brings a wave of new residential construction in the county, we must insist that affordable housing be a part of that growth.