Count finds slight increase in homeless
EVERETT - Volunteers took to the streets last month for Snohomish County’s annual snapshot of the homeless.
The volunteers found 2,382 homeless individuals countywide, a slight uptick from 2011 numbers, according to preliminary numbers.
Everett’s homeless population makes up almost half of that figure. Volunteers counted 1,097 people in the county’s largest city.
People like Mike Wiggins.
Wiggins, 42, was living in his car until he could no longer afford the license tabs for it. Now he’s on the streets.
Wiggins said he’s been on the streets for about two years. He said he used to live with his parents and worked odd jobs until they passed away and Wiggins was forced out on his own.
He now sleeps in hallways or anywhere else he can “get undercover without being ticketed for trespassing,” he said two weeks ago. When he can’t find a place hidden from police, he sleeps sitting up to avoid being ticketed for “camping.”
In Everett, volunteers found 236 such individuals living without shelter, according to preliminary numbers.
Countywide volunteers found 2,382 individuals, of which 829 were children under the age of 18, 381 were victims of domestic violence and 115 were veterans, according to preliminary numbers.
The 2012 snapshot is slightly up from last year’s snapshot, which found 2,273 individuals, but almost even with 2010 numbers. In 2010, volunteers found 2,362 homeless individuals.
County Executive Aaron Reardon made it a goal to cut down on homelessness by 2016, but numerous challenges still hinder this goal. The largest is the Great Recession, which began in 2008.
“The downturn in the economy has gotten in the way,” county human services department director Ken Stark said last week.
The department is looking at ways to collaborate with nonprofits to help a larger amount of homeless people compared to when Reardon started his campaign in 2006.
Homelessness is created by multiple factors, such as drops in state funding. A recent underscore is the rise of foreclosures, Stark said.
The county is working to obtain a large set of housing vouchers from local nonprofits right now, Stark said. The nonprofits receive the vouchers from the federal government.
The annual count helps the county get state and federal dollars by being able to show data on how many people are going without shelter.
The county’s figures differ from how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines the homeless. The county’s figures are higher because Snohomish County includes people couch surfing and in temporary shelter, Stark said.
Living without shelter
Wiggins was given soup and coffee — his first meal of the day at 11:30 a.m. — at the Salvation Army, which acted as the headquarters for the Everett region count. Jeanita Nelson of Catholic Community Services managed the count Thursday, Jan. 26.
The day started windy and chilly, with a mild afternoon but a chilly evening. Temperatures hovered in the 40s.
“It’s an eye-opener for you when you turn on your car (afterward) and turn on your heater,” Nelson said.
Volunteers gave out gloves, scarves, blankets and bus passes to the homeless people they encountered.
Wiggins seeks warm places to sleep, but sometimes those are sparse.
Opening his backpack, Wiggins shows the three lightweight blankets he carries. He uses the heaviest of the three to lay on the ground or cement and the other two over the top of him. Even with the three blankets it sometimes is not enough to keep warm, he said.
Some people come to Everett looking for work with Boeing. One man Nelson interviewed had come up from Sacramento and ran out of luck.
The man seemed bright and well-educated. He just hasn’t been able to find work the past two years, Nelson said.
The most common cause for people to be without permanent shelter was the economy as they were unable to pay rent or lost their homes due to being jobless for extended periods, volunteer Rebecca Lewis of the Salvation Army said. Lewis said she found that alcohol or drug problems also are common among the homeless.
The homeless tend to help each other when times get tough.
During the count, one formerly homeless man and count volunteer, Lee Smith, gave a new coat to someone he met during the count. It’s not uncommon for the homeless to trade items to help each other out, Smith said.
“A lot of them know where the meals are and where to go” for food banks, haircuts and other services, Nelson said.
Additional reporting by Doug Ramsay.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Additional reporting by Doug Ramsay
Published Feb. 8, 2012