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DC Homeless Population Spikes While National Average Drops

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter

The homeless rate is skyrocketing in Washington, D.C., despite a drop in the national average, according to new figures from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Homelessness in the District is up 14.4 percent from last year, while the U.S. as a whole experienced a three percent decline in the homeless rate. The spike in D.C. represents one of the steepest year-over-year increases in the homeless population anywhere in the country, higher only in California and Washington state. HUD reported that roughly 1,000 more people were homeless in the city this year than in 2015, reports WUSA9.

Many in the city blame high living expenses for the increase in the homeless rate.

“It isn’t a surprise,” Alicia Horton, the executive director for Thrive DC, a non-profit, told WUSA9. “It is just a very expensive city to live in. We know this phenomenon in these urban environments. And it just really is taking it’s toll on the poor.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser enacted policy last year to expand access to shelters for the city’s homeless, and many argue the increase can be attributed to better access to services in the District. The policy allowed for roughly 464 homeless families to shelter before cold weather hit the city last winter.

The HUD figures come from a survey conducted one night each January to get a snapshot of the homeless rate across the country. The numbers are almost identical to a survey conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in May, which also found a roughly 14 percent increase in the homeless population. That survey also found a third of the Metro area’s homeless are children, and over half of the area’s homeless struggle with drug addiction and mental health problems.

Officials say the sharp spike is due to D.C.’s unique policy towards the homeless of rarely turning away people from shelters, even if they are from a neighboring state.

“We never say, especially during ‘right to shelter’ [hypothermia season], that there is no space, we cannot provide that to you,” Laura Zeilinger, head of the D.C. Department of Human Services, told NBC4 in May. “Other jurisdictions, that isn’t their policy.”

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