Volunteers count homeless for annual survey
EVERETT - Volunteers took to the streets last week for Snohomish County’s annual homeless count.
The volunteers found 1,960 homeless individuals countywide, a decrease from 2011 and 2012 numbers, according to preliminary numbers.
The Jan. 24 Point in Time Count isn’t a true count of homeless people because it is based on how many people are found by volunteers willing to be interviewed that day. The count gives just a snapshot of the county’s homeless population. The annual count is a federal mandate in order to help the state and federal government gauge how much money to disburse to each county.
“There’s more services needed than there is available and that’s why this is important to get money for services,” said Jeanita Nelson, of Catholic Community Services and Everett region count leader.
Everett’s homeless population traditionally makes up almost half of the total figure counted. Preliminary figures for the county’s largest city weren’t available last week.
Volunteer leaders are always looking for the best ways to find homeless people on count day to get the most accurate figure possible. This year volunteers asked homeless and formerly homeless people where to go to find the most people.
The team searching the east part of the county had homeless and formerly homeless adults lead the volunteers.
“They’ll take us out to places not known to the community,” East county count leader Sharon Paskewitz said. Paskewitz was working with churches and Monroe’s Take the Next Step organization to rally volunteers.
Volunteers carry donated goods such as socks, warm clothes and toiletries to give to the people they encounter on count night.
In Everett, the Salvation Army set up a station near Evergreen Way and 128th Street with coffee and pastries to encourage homeless people to sit down for an interview. The Everett volunteer teams were headquartered at the Salvation Army in north Everett.
Last year’s count found 717 people without a roof over their heads, 115 homeless veterans and 799 homeless children. They found 363 domestic violence victims, and 1,347 people living in emergency shelters.
“That’s sad,” Nelson said of the number of homeless children.
The Everett School District calculates there are 463 homeless students in the district, according to figures provided by the district’s homeless liaison Mary Ellen Hardy. The district served 835 homeless students during this school year.
Homeless advocates say the face of the homeless is changing because of the Great Recession.
“Who would have guessed the recession would last this long,” Paskewitz said.
Nelson remembers interviewing a well-dressed mom who was living out of her car with her kids.
“If you saw her, you would not have guessed they were living in their car,” Nelson said.
“Unemployment, substance abuse, mental illness and/or other disabilities, and family breakup (including breakup caused by domestic violence) continue to be some of the major causes of homelessness reported each year,” said Nate Marti of the county’s housing and homeless services department.
Almost half of the families counted reported “they had become homeless in the last year; 24 percent have been homeless between one to two years, and the remaining 28 percent have been homeless longer than two years,” Marti said.
Job loss is the biggest reason people are homeless — two-thirds of the people counted who became homeless last year say they lost their job.
An average of 2,344 individuals was counted in the past four years, Marti said.
The county is in the middle of a 10-year plan to reduce homelessness. The plan calls for expanding affordable housing and homeless prevention services, and gearing programs for homeless groups, a Snohomish County press release states.
The county has made some progress. For example, last year it opened a shelter for homeless veterans south of Everett.
A separate program called Investing in Families Initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation assists homeless people in three counties.
The initiative attempts to bring together service providers that help the low-income to guide the homeless into jobs and homes to give them stability.
“It would be nice if we didn’t have anyone to count because that would mean everyone would have a home,” Nelson said.
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