Snohomish County 2019 homelessness count shows more people living without shelter

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The Snohomish County Human Services Department Tuesday announced the results of its Point-in-Time (PIT) Count of people experiencing homelessness — and it showed that more people than ever are living without shelter.

The annual PIT Count was held on Jan. 23, 2019. This survey was supported by the efforts of 288 volunteers, plus county and partnering agency staff who came together to document 1,116 homeless individuals in Snohomish County.

According to a Snohomish County announcement, the PIT Count is the highest it has been since 2012. “From its lowest point in 2015, when we identified 829 people, the PIT Count is up 34.6% to 1,116 in 2019,” the announcement said. “The sheltered count, largely a reflection of system capacity, was unchanged from 2015 (517). Additionally, there was an increase of 92% in the number of people living without shelter from 2015 to 2019 (312 to 599).”

The Point In Time Count is required by state and federal funders and is used in planning efforts. In an effort to increase the usability and accuracy of the data, Snohomish County said it changed the methodology for locating homeless individuals during the 2019 survey, including a new strategy for finding families experiencing homelessness.

The count includes people residing in emergency shelter, transitional housing and living without shelter. Due to the fact that the unsheltered count relies on volunteer survey takers who visit encampments, food banks, community resources locations, and known areas where people experiencing homelessness congregate, the methodology is prone to undercounting families experiencing homelessness. To mitigate that issue, Snohomish County leveraged data from Coordinated Entry, a system that is utilized to assist people experiencing homelessness, the announcement said.

This change in methodology is responsible for a significant portion of the increase observed in the unsheltered count. The overall increase in homelessness seen in this year’s PIT Count parallels an increase in the number of individuals and families seeking and receiving housing services through the county-wide homelessness response system, the county announcement said.

According to the county, the unsheltered count varied in important ways from previous years. When compared with 2018 data specifically, there was a higher proportion of young adults aged 18 to 24 (6.6% to 11.1%), adult females (31.6% to 44.2%), adults in families with children (4.5% to 10%), and people of color (18.5% to 24.4%). The number of children increased from 28 to 59, and 11 were unaccompanied. The proportion of people living in households experiencing chronic homelessness decreased from 71% to 60% but the number of people increased from 270 to 358. The number of veterans increased slightly from 32 in 2018 to 35 in 2019.

A summary of the PIT Count and more detailed data may be found at https://snohomishcountywa.gov/2857/Point-In-Time.

While an imperfect measure, the PIT Count is one of the tools used to inform priorities for federal, state, and local funding, and it helps identify trends and craft solutions for addressing the needs of vulnerable individuals and families, the county said. The analysis and overall trend data are utilized by the Snohomish County Partnership to End Homelessness as one of many tools to track progress toward goals to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness. You can see more data in the public dashboards at public.tableau.com/profile/SnoCoHMIS#!/.

By the end of 2019, 142 additional units of housing specifically dedicated to addressing the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness will become available in Snohomish County. While this increase in housing should have an impact on the PIT Count in 2020, it will not be enough to meet demand based on current trends, the count said.

In response to this challenge and the impact of the rising cost of living on the availability and affordability of housing, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced the formation of a Housing Task Force to launch a community discussion about potential solutions to the housing crisis. The task force will examine needs across the housing spectrum: affordable housing, subsidized and special needs housing, and alternative housing models, and it will create recommendations for increasing the supply of housing across all areas of need to provide more alternatives to those experiencing and at risk of homelessness.

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