Report: Bethesda's Most Vulnerable Spend Years on the Street

New data shows medically vulnerable homeless people spend an average of 7.47 years on the street.


Medically vulnerable homeless residents in the Bethesda area have been living on the street for an average of 7.47 years—nearly two years longer than the national average, according to new data released by homeless advocacy group Bethesda Cares.

The data was collected through outreach assessments led by the group as a part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a nationwide effort aimed to house 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless individuals by July of 2013. The campaign asks communities to canvas homeless individuals to determine who are most at risk of dying on the street, and prioritizing housing for those people.

“These are not shelter beds—these are permanent apartments where you can lock the door,” Jake Maguire, a spokesman for the campaign, told Patch last year. The “housing first” model “is really the only solution to homelessness that’s been shown to work,” Maguire said.

Between November 2011 and October 2012, 110 volunteers fanned out four times along the Rt. 355 corridor near Friendship Heights, downtown Bethesda, Grosvenor and White Flint, collecting information from the men and women they found sleeping near Metro stations, in wooded areas, in parking garages and on the street. 

The new data reveals a detailed picture of Bethesda’s chronically homeless, who have been without shelter for long periods of time and who may suffer from mental illness, substance abuse or medical problems that place them at a higher risk of dying on the street.

Volunteers contacted 125 homeless people, of whom 88 agreed to participate in the assessment, according to John Mendez, Bethesda Cares outreach specialist.

The report on Bethesda homeless indicated 76 percent of those who participated met the definition of chronically homeless.

“That’s a huge number of people who are on the streets who are chronically homeless,” Mendez said. “It’s not just people out there on the street for a night or two – they’ve been out there for years.”

Information gathered from 46 participants indicated they were medically vulnerable and that they had spent an average of 7.47 years living on the street – nearly two years longer than the national average of 5.71 years, according to 100,000 Homes Campaign data.

“That tells me that our system of care needs to get more specific in terms of targeting people who have been homeless the longest and who are medically vulnerable,” Mendez said.

The group hopes to share the data with policy-makers and advocate for housing for those individuals, Mendez said.

Of the 88 homeless people Bethesda Cares contacted:

  • 49 reported sleeping most frequently on the street, 6 in their car, 11 at a subway or bus station, 4 in shelters
  • 23 percent were tri-morbid (diagnosed with substance abuse, mental illness and a medical vulnerability)
  • 15 percent were 60 or older
  • 31 percent were victims of a violent attack
  • 76 percent were chronically homeless
  • 52 percent reported mental illness or a mental health history
  • 69 percent reported substance abuse or substance abuse history
  • 35 percent were dually diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse
  • 52 percent reported a medical vulnerability
  • About 20 percent were not enrolled in the county’s Homeless Management Information System. More than 50 percent had little or nor transaction history in the system
  • Individuals reported a collective 89 trips to the emergency room in the previous three months and 65 total inpatient hospitalizations in the past year

Sue Kirk, Bethesda Cares director, said that the data has helped the outreach group to gain a better understanding of their clients.

“We now know, if you want to put it in business terms, what our market is,” Kirk said. “Instead of whoever wanders in or whoever we find by wandering out on the street, we can now do a logic-based housing model and help those who are most in need, which is phenomenal.”

Six of the homeless residents who participated in the survey have been housed so far, Mendez said – including a


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