Arlington's Pre-COVID Homelessness Numbers Were Among Lowest in Years

Published on July 10, 2020

For the 20th consecutive year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee has conducted a regional Point-in-Time (PIT) enumeration of the area's residents experiencing homelessness and those who were formerly homeless. This year's enumeration and survey occurred on January 22, 2020.

Arlington saw a 7-percent reduction in overall homelessness, down from 215 persons in 2019 to 199 in 2020.

The PIT provides a one-night "snapshot" of the region's residents experiencing homelessness within nine metropolitan Washington area jurisdictions. It is important to note that this "snapshot," by definition, provides only one perspective on the state of homelessness in metropolitan Washington on only one night, and the count may be influenced by numerous variables, such as weather and bed availability by jurisdiction.

In addition, when the count was conducted, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was not apparent in the region. By the time the data were gathered and analyzed, however, the challenges facing people experiencing homelessness and those who are working to end their housing crisis had grown exponentially as a result of the pandemic's economic impacts.

MORE: Get help with housing and rent assistance

In Arlington, the January PIT numbers saw improvement in many key metrics:

  • 8% reduction in single adult homelessness, down from 146 persons in 2019 to 135 in 2020
  • 7% reduction in family homelessness, down from 69 persons in 2019 to 64 in 2020
  • 73% reduction in chronic homelessness, down from 74 persons in 2019 to 20 in 2020
  • 70% reduction in veteran homelessness, down from 10 persons in 2019 to 3 in 2020
  • 41% reduction in persons actively fleeing domestic violence resulting in homelessness, down from 27 persons in 2019 to 16 in 2020
  • 29% reduction in Transition Age Youth (TAY), ages 18-24, experiencing homelessness, down from 14 persons in 2019 to 10 in 2020

"We are very pleased to see another decrease in the number of homeless individuals in our community, as indicated by the 2020 Point-in-Time Count," said Kim Painter, who co-chairs the Arlington Continuum of Care (CoC). "This accomplishment has been made possible by a strong, coordinated system of public and private partners, dedicated staff and many individuals who have put in the effort required to transition from homelessness to housing.  The work of the Continuum of Care is ongoing with plenty of new challenges ahead as the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the livelihoods of so many in our community. Our system has strengthened our coordination, taken precautions to protect frontline staff, and is working to prevent an increase in homelessness in our community."

Arlington programs, policies and strategies that have helped prevent and end homelessness include:

  • Shelter Diversion: Arlington County continues to have creative problem-solving conversations at each point of entry that help people experiencing a housing crisis quickly identify and access safe alternatives, connect with community resources and family supports, and housing search.
  • Eviction/Prevention Services: The Arlington County's CoC maintains a robust menu of targeted prevention services to assist households faced with eviction. Without these services, the Arlington CoC would have an increased number of individuals and families requesting and receiving emergency shelter services.
  • Housing Grants: Unique to Arlington County, the Housing Grants program provides rental assistance to eligible low-income renters who are 65 years or older, totally and permanently disabled, working families with at least one child under age 18 or clients and patients of a County-operated behavioral health program. These grants cover a portion of monthly rent, depending on household income, household size and maximum rent amounts.
  • Continuation of Housing First Approach: Housing First emphasizes moving households into permanent housing as quickly as possible, and then providing ongoing services to help maintain housing while addressing personal needs/challenges. Households with leasing barriers (including little or no income), are quickly moved into permanent housing with rental assistance, service supports and a plan to sustain their housing.
  • Street Outreach: Service workers continue to be proactive in their outreach efforts throughout the year, often encountering extremely difficult to engage persons. Many individuals living on the street are transient and connected to services in other jurisdictions. Street Outreach continues to move individuals into permanent housing with rental assistance and support services through different housing interventions.
  • New Funding: The Department of Human Services has actively applied for and received funding from a number of sources (including the CARES Act) to bolster financial resources to help prevent evictions, stabilize housing, provide emergency financial assistance, and reduce the impact of lost wages.

"We celebrate this modest success but would be remiss if we did not address the future of homelessness as a result of COVID-19 which presented shortly after the PIT," said Arlington Department of Human Services Director Anita Friedman. "For example, at the time of the enumeration, 34 individuals were living unsheltered in Arlington. This summer, through our Street Outreach work and through the new Homeless Outreach Coalition, we know that 93 people are living unsheltered. We must be intentional moving forward: safety is paramount, affordable housing is the solution, and explicitly centering racial equity in the center of our work is critical."

RELATED: Find COVID-19 financial assistance

The COVID-19 pandemic will amplify racial inequity and disparities among residents experiencing homelessness — a longstanding issue in Arlington. However, as the CoC continues to understand racial equity, the creation of policies targeting housing for the most underprivileged groups experiencing homelessness will be the most effective way to address the overwhelming equity gap. The Arlington County Board adopted an Equity Resolution, reaffirming its commitment to continue dialogue about race and equity, resolve existing disparities and create a framework for an equitable approach to decision-making.

About the Arlington Continuum of Care

Arlington County has a core network of interconnected programs and services, called the Continuum of Care, or CoC, to assist people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The CoC includes County government programs/services and nonprofit organizations. It provides a foundation for the broader community partnership working toward the shared goals of preventing homelessness before it occurs and returning homeless individuals and families to stable housing as quickly as possible.