On December 20th-21st, The Way Home Campaign joined our Steering Committee partner the People for Fairness Coalition to mourn 72 of our neighbors who died without the dignity of a home. One person dying without housing in the capital of the wealthiest country in the world is tragic, 72 is simply unacceptable. We are deeply grateful to the People for Fairness Coalition for their vision and leadership. Reporting from The Washington Post, WAMU/DCist, WUSA9 , Street Sense, and WTOP sheds light on this powerful and somber event. This annual event is held throughout the country on the longest night of the year and serves as a powerful reminder that individuals experiencing homelessness and dying early and frequently, often from situations that can be addressed or mitigated by housing.
As Donald Whitehead, Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said, “These are unnecessary deaths. Most of the deaths are preventable, and would not have happened in a safe, decent, affordable home.” If DC is committed to communal safety and health, our elected officials must ensure that our neighbors living outside have access to safe and stable housing.
A deeper look into the numbers
This year, we collected more information than ever before about those who died without housing. For those who we have data for, we know that:
- The average age was 55. The oldest person was 79
- 84% of those who died without housing were Black
- Causes of death included many things that can be treated or mitigated by housing such as complications from diabetes, sepsis, tumor, complications from untreated infection.
- Violence was also a cited cause of death, reminding us that people experiencing homelessness are often victims of physical violence
These sobering statistics remind us that housing is a critical form of safety and healthcare. It saves lives and ends homelessness. Furthermore, the disproportionate number of Black people who died without housing underscores that homelessness is caused by systems - like racism and capitalism - that funnel Black people into housing instability and poverty. Solving homelessness requires shifting the blame away from our unhoused neighbors and focusing on solutions to meaningfully address poverty and the lack of truly affordable housing.
Many individuals were matched to housing
Over 60% of those who died without housing in 2022 were matched to a housing voucher. This means that they died either while they were waiting to be assigned to a case manager or were in other ways working through the housing process. Our collective advocacy has secured over 2,500 vouchers for single adults over the past 2 years. However, less than 15% of locally funded vouchers have been used. People are dying while they wait to move into their apartments. This must compel us all, especially the DC government, to act with increased urgency.
Together, we can end homelessness
The Way Home Campaign joins the entire community in collective grief and determination to build a city where nobody dies without housing. We believe a world where everybody has the housing they need for their health and safety is possible. Achieving that reality will take us all. It will take Mayor Bowser increasing funding for housing and supports and it will require the entire homeless services system, led by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the DC Housing Authority, to move more quickly to utilize historic resources. It will take all of us coming together to hold our elected officials responsible when they fail to act with urgency to end homelessness.
It will also take all of us continually pushing back against anti-homeless rhetoric, getting loud every time people blame homelessness on unhoused people rather than the systems that created and perpetuate it. And last, but certainly not least, it will take all of us to listen to, elevate, and follow the leadership of people with lived experience of homelessness.
If you did not have the opportunity to participate in the 2022 Vigil, please join us now in remembering our neighbors who died without the dignity of a home last year: