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More Homeless Families Expected In D.C. This Winter, Straining Shelters

The number of homeless families in D.C. is expected to jump 16 percent this winter, further straining the city's capacity to house them during the coldest days of the season.

According to the Interagency Council on Homelessness' winter plan, which is set to be voted on today, 840 families are expected to seek emergency shelter during the upcoming winter, up from the 723 that did so during the 2013-14 winter. The plan says that the estimate stems from a 26 percent increase in requests for assistance from May through July.

The winter plan covers the period from Nov. 1 to March 30 and outlines how D.C. government agencies and non-profit providers will respond to homeless residents who seek shelter during hypothermia alerts, or when the temperature falls below 32 degrees. During the 2013-14 winter, hypothermia alerts were in effect for 100 days, and two alerts were issued in April.

For the upcoming winter, the plan says that the 409 units available for families at D.C. General and other shelters will be fully occupied by the time the first hypothermia alert is issued later this year. While 52 families are being moved out of shelters per month, the plan admits that "it is expected that overflow capacity will be needed by December."

The shelter at D.C. General came under intense scrutiny earlier this year after 8-year-old Relisha Rudd, who lived there, disappeared with a janitor who was later found dead. Since then, D.C. has embarked upon a campaign to move families out of the aging facility with the hope of eventually closing it, though city officials admitted earlier this year that it could take up to 18 months to shutter it.

In August, there were 196 families — comprised of 261 adults and 382 children — at D.C. General, down from 244 the prior month. From April through August, D.C. had moved 250 families out of D.C. General and other shelters.

The council's plan says that D.C. will likely have to find options for the families that won't fit in D.C. General and other family shelters during the winter, but that the city could be constrained by a court ruling limiting the use of recreation centers for housing and a new budget that does not include funds for motels, which have been used in the past for families shut out of other shelters.

"The District of Columbia must take the measures necessary to meet its legal obligations regarding a right to shelter, acknowledging that the anticipated need for shelter will exceed the currently available resources and that additional resources will be necessary," says the plan.

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