36% drop in homelessness in Virginia attributed to ‘rapid rehousing’ initiative

A homeless encampment in downtown Richmond. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The number of homeless people in Virginia has dropped 36 percent over the past decade, from 9,080 people in 2010 to 5,780 this year.

State housing officials attribute the steadily improving numbers to the state’s early embrace of a strategy called rapid-rehousing, which helps people facing or experiencing homelessness pay for security deposits and rent.

“We know that the solution to homelessness is housing – it’s kind of a no brainer,” said Pam Kestner, deputy director of housing at the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Homeless populations in the U.S. are tracked using a point-in-time count, which is conducted on a single day every year in cities around the country.

Virginia’s numbers compare favorably to other states, with a rate of seven homeless people per 10,000 residents, according to HUD. The highest rates are in California and New York, with 33 and 46 people per 10,000 experiencing homelessness.

Numbers across the state are not even. The Richmond area has seen the largest decrease in homelessness, from 1,158 people in 2007 to 662 in 2017 and 497 this year. The Fairfax and Falls Church area meanwhile, has seen its numbers rise slightly over the past three years, from 967 to 1,034.

Kestner told members of the Virginia Housing Commission this week that the state and federal government together are budgeting $17.5 million for homeless services this year.

She said her department’s focus going forward, laid out in an executive order issued by Gov. Ralph Northam, is eviction diversion and increasing the stock of affordable housing.