Cold Leaves DC’s Homeless Shelters Overflowing


With temperatures plunging into the single-digits in our nation’s capital, the city has been scrambling to meet the increase in demand for shelter beds from the approximately 7,000 homeless residents who call Washington D.C. home.

Of those 7,000 homeless people, most have shelter of some sort, such as a Salvation Army or a friend’s couch, but not a stable or permanent living situation. However, in the 2013 annual count, 512 individuals in D.C. had no shelter of any kind, making the streets their home instead.

For most of the year, living on the sidewalk is uncomfortable and inhumane, but in the winter months, it can turn deadly. And with freezing temperatures in D.C. over the past week, there has been a surge in need for warm shelter.

The District of Columbia is legally required to provide housing when it becomes dangerously cold outside. But every shelter bed in the city was occupied this week, leaving city officials scrambling to keep up with demand. As a result, 436 low-income families have been placed in hotels by the D.C. Department of Human Services. But even hotel space in the city is running out, so city officials were forced to send as many as 60 families to two hotels in Maryland, outside D.C. limits.

According to the Washington Post, sending homeless families to hotels outside city limits is “rare” if not “unprecedented.”

Mayor Vincent Gray’s spokesman Pedro Ribeiro argued that the move was a necessary “safety valve” to meet the surge in demand for shelter. “The system is working how it is supposed to work,” Ribeiro argued. “It’s not ideal, but it’s the system we have.”

The recent cold snap has been extraordinarily dangerous for homeless people outside of D.C. as well. Last week alone, at least five homeless people froze to death because they were unable to get access to proper shelter.