WASHINGTON — To know if D.C. is making progress toward the goal of ending homelessness, Wednesday night the District conducted its annual Point In Time count of every person experiencing homelessness.
"My first thought when I checked the weather was it's going to be a rough one," said Councilmember Robert White to a room full of volunteers. "My second thought second thought was I'm only out there for a few hours. And a lot of people in our city are out there every day."
Across D.C. Wednesday, political and nonprofit leaders sent rooms of volunteers out into the rainy night to count every unhoused person in the District.
"There are many people here that could use the help," said Dale McCune, who is one of dozens living in a tent in McPherson Square just blocks from the White House.
"The count is really critical to understand who we are helping," said Christy Respress, the President and CEO of Pathways to Housing D.C. who was part of the counting effort.
She said volunteers are doing more than just counting - also collecting demographic and personal data that will help inform strategies to fight homelessness.
The annual count is a requirement for federal funds to reduce homelessness.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D-DC), says last year's count showed progress with homelessness dropping by 47% over the previous year.
"Which is a result of remarkable investment and hard work on the part of community partners, policy makers and leaders," Bowser told reporters at the kickoff of the count.
As for tent encampments like the one in McPherson Square, Laura Green Zeilinger the Director of the Department of Human Services said despite the visibility of the camps, homelessness is still dropping in D.C.
"People often feel like the visibility of homelessness is up so, they believe homelessness is on the rise when the data tells us we're seeing these remarkable decreases," said Zeilinger.
Still, some who work closely with those experiencing homelessness say red tape is still keeping resources from reaching those who need them most - like need ID to qualify for vouchers or finding apartments to rent with vouchers.
The challenges are there. We know what they are," said Respress. "We know how to fix them, though...we need to do it faster. We need to make sure that every single person is at a home so that we're not doing this every year."
For those sleeping in McPherson Square time is running out to find a place to stay. The District says it will clear the square by sometime in April.