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DC Family Homeless Crisis Worse Than Previously Imagined

For the 2014-2015 season the city expected the number of homeless families to swell to 840, though the actual number is at 897 and still rising with almost three weeks left in the “hypothermia season,” Director of Human Services Laura Zeilinger told the D.C. council at a Thursday hearing.

The bitter cold of winter sent 723 Washington, D.C. families seeking shelter last year, which left the city in a tough spot, requiring the families to stay in makeshift shelters and hotel rooms.

In an effort to be more prepared this year, the city planned for a 16 percent increase in the number of families requiring help. The actual number, however, was much larger.

With 1 in 10 D.C. residents qualifying as “literally homeless,” the city wanted to get out ahead of their problem. Instead, they underestimated it by around 60 families.

Last year, with all its shelters full, the city spent millions of dollars on contracts with hotels to house families in the district. This year they expect to spend even more.

When the temperature falls below zero in Washington, D.C., homeless people have a legal right to a shelter bed. One of only a few cities in the nation with a legal obligation to house the homeless, The D.C. law requires families to have apartment style housing because typical homeless shelters could be traumatizing for children.

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