Report: Arlington’s homeless population is up 14% since 2023, despite improved shelter access

A sleeping bag and roll of toilet paper in an alcove of the elevated walkway in Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington’s homeless population grew by 14% in the past year, according to a recent report.

However, the county’s efforts to expand shelter capacity and enhance outreach have led to more homeless individuals gaining access to shelter and fewer homeless survivors of domestic violence and transition-age youth, per a report released on Wednesday by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG)

The nearly 200-page study, which surveyed year-round usage of shelters and temporary housing across the D.C. area, reveals that Arlington’s homeless population has grown from 213 to 243 individuals since January 2023. Nearly half of homeless individuals were reported to be Black and over 35 years old

The number of single adults in emergency shelters increased by 31%, from 105 to 138 individuals. Similarly, the number of families seeking emergency shelter rose from 21 households, totaling 66 people in 2023, to 24 households, totaling 74 people in 2024.

The number of chronically homeless individuals nearly doubled, rising by 94% from 18 to 35. Homeless veterans increased by 117%, from six to 13 individuals.

The report concluded that systemic racism, high housing costs, and the end of pandemic-related eviction protections are root causes of homelessness in Arlington. It suggested that addressing homelessness requires tackling systemic issues, such as racial segregation, over-policing in communities of color, access to quality healthcare and education, and affordable housing.

Other recommendations include creating an aging and homelessness task force, enhancing substance use and mental health services, expanding outreach to those experiencing homelessness, and improving data tracking and analysis.

“With eviction rates continuing to rise, lagging incomes and lack of affordable housing continue to disparately impact people of color in Arlington County, Virginia,” the report states. “In fact, 95% of persons surveyed during the Point-in-Time Count identified as having primary ties to Arlington County. These are our neighbors in need.”

Arlington also saw the number of people with substance use disorders — most of whom were single adults — double this past year, rising from 13 in 2023 to 26. However, reports of severe mental illness dropped from 52 to 48, and co-occurring disorders fell from 40 to 18.

Last year, Arlington County launched its Mobile Outreach Support Team (MOST) in an effort to reduce police response to mental health emergencies and drug overdoses. The team provides a range of services, including on-site triage, peer support, and conflict resolution.

Arlington is not alone in facing a homelessness crisis. Seven out of eight jurisdictions in the region, including Fairfax, Prince William, Montgomery counties, and the city of Alexandria and D.C., reported growing homeless populations as well.

Illustration showing the change in homeless population from 2020 to 2024 across the D.C. area (via Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments)

Overall, Arlington County saw a 22% increase in its homeless population from 2020 to 2024. Surrounding localities have also seen increases, as high as 71% in Montgomery County, though Alexandria and the District of Columbia saw reductions during that time period.

In the past year, the D.C. region has seen a 12% spike in its homeless population, rising from 8,696 in 2023 to 9,774 in 2024. The most significant increases were observed in Montgomery County (28%) and Loudoun County (38%).

Fairfax was the only jurisdiction to see a decrease in homelessness since last year, dropping 2% from 1,310 to 1,278 people. However, the county’s homeless population increased 23% overall since 2020.

Although Arlington has fewer homeless people than larger jurisdictions like the District of Columbia (5,616), its rate is similar when adjusted for population size: 1 for every 1,000 residents.

Despite these challenges, the report highlights that Arlington’s Continuum of Care (CoC) services and programs, which provide resources such as housing assistance for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, have led to a 26% decrease in unsheltered homelessness, dropping from 42 people in 2023 to 31 in 2024.

Additionally, the number of homeless survivors fleeing domestic violence decreased by 58%, from 40 people in 2023 to 17 in 2024. The number of transition-age youth (18-24) checking into shelters also fell by 38%, from 16 people in 2023 to 10 in 2024.

In total, the county has 249 year-round and winter shelter beds and 447 rapid rehousing and permanent supportive beds, according to the report. In the last 12 months, Arlington estimates it served 1,188 people across all its programs, including 437 people in its emergency shelters.