Job losses, foreclosures and high housing costs led to a 15 percent increase in the number of homeless families in the Washington area, a preliminary report released on Wednesday said.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments reported on its ninth annual count of the area's homeless population. It found that 5,263 people in families, including children, were homeless on Jan. 30. That number is up from 4,566 a year earlier.
Officials said the deepening recession was sending more people to shelters and transitional housing.
The increase was the biggest in years, reversing a downward trend the report had found in recent years. The council will offer a final report next month.
"It's really a one-two punch," said David Robertson, executive director of the council. "This is still an expensive area to live, and I think the numbers reflect that. But the results are also the beginning wave of people losing their homes because of foreclosures, whether they are renters or owners."
The overall homeless population increased modestly, the report said, with the number of single homeless people falling.
Just more than 12,000 homeless people were counted, up 2.2 percent from last year.
Arlington County's 24 percent increase, from 410 to 511, was the highest. Prince William recorded a 14.5 percent increase, from 550 to 630. Montgomery and Frederick counties and the District had smaller increases, while Alexandria, Prince George's, Fairfax and Loudoun counties reported decreases.
Single people counted this year were 6,749, down from 7,186 last year.
The figures were collected at tent villages, shelters, soup kitchens and transitional housing. Advocates said the numbers are incomplete, however.
"It doesn't count the people who are turned away because we don't have space or just aren't present that day. There is still way more need," said Cheri Villa of SERVE, a homeless shelter and social services agency in Manassas.
D.C. officials said they have made progress in getting people off the streets, which the report does not measure. Laura Zeilinger of the D.C. Department of Human Services said the number of people on the streets dropped 15 percent in January from a year earlier. Many have moved into new transitional programs.