Point in Time Count brings homeless together and connects them to services

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    Two men enjoy a game of chess. They said they love to play chess together, but haven’t been able to play for about a year. (All photos by Natalie Covate)

    It was rainy Thursday morning. That’s not surprising in Washington in January, but it was both a good thing and a challenge for volunteers trying to count the homeless in Snohomish County.

    Thursday, Jan. 28 was the day of the Point in Time count, an annual effort to count the number of homeless people. As part of the effort, a day camp was set up at the Good Shepherd Baptist Church, located at 6915 196th St. SW. in Lynnwood, with food and supplies available to give away to anyone who dropped by.

    The rain was good, because the people who made it to the day camp had a day in January out of the rain.

    “They can come inside, get food, get dry and build community,” YWCA’s Snohomish County Regional Director Mary Anne Dillon said.

    But volunteers heading out in the rain to count people on the street struggled to find people hiding under cover to stay dry.

    “Nobody has come back saying they had a negative experience,” Becca Lang, Lead Family Advocate for the YWCA, said. “Some people said it was hard. Some people were disappointed they couldn’t find more people.”

    Last year, 966 people were counted in Snohomish County without stable housing. Of those, 81 people were in the South County area including Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds and Mill Creek.

    Some counties may have their counts from this year ready tomorrow, but because of the detail Snohomish County experts go into, this year’s count could take a month or longer to finalize.

    In Snohomish County, volunteers not only do a headcount, they also take a survey of the people they find. That helps ensure people are not counted multiple times and also allows experts to find out what the homeless need.

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    Derek (left), Charles (center) and Trina (right) pose together. “They are my family,” Derek said. “We all take care of each other,” Charles said. “We bicker sometimes, but that’s what happens when you’re with the same people all day long,” Trina said.

    “Last year, we got things like backpacks and sleeping bags, but they told us they need would really need things like Payless Shoes gift cards or Orca cards, socks and underwear, that sort of thing,” Lang said. “So this year, we changed it to the things they need.”

    This was also the first year organizers brought games to play. Two men who didn’t want to be named were eager to pick up the chess board. They said they love to play chess together, but haven’t been able to for about a year.

    A group of four sat around a set of dominoes. One tried to teach the others how to play, but they weren’t interested in learning. So they sat together and talked.

    “You’ve got to be strong and stay positive,” Charles, one of the four, said. “You can’t judge a book by its cover. Some of them are hard backs, some are paper backs. Some of the paper backs are beat up, but some of the hard backs are missing pages.”

    A cribbage set and several decks of playing cards were also going around the room. Lang hopes to get music at the day camp next year.

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    Toiletries, socks and underwear were available for people to take with them.

    Some sat in chairs and slept with their heads resting on tables.

    Also on hand were volunteers to connect those in need with government services. WithinReach, an organization that connects people to appropriate health services, was there all day.

    “A lot of people don’t know their options, because it’s convoluted,” WithinReach employee David Chen said. “Some people get kicked off their health plan without knowing it.”

    By 9:45 a.m., Chen had already connected three people to health services.

    Helpers with connections to veteran’s services, food services and legal services were also at the event.

    Organizers had a lot of help at the camp. Some homeless arrived early and volunteered to help set up the camp.

    Overall, organizers said they were pleased with the event, especially the volunteer turnout.

    “Last year was good, but this year was twice as good,” Lang said. “We had people call with no connection to any organization, just people who wanted to help.”

    –By Natalie Covate

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