PORT TOWNSEND — More than a dozen volunteers from Olympic Community Action Programs and other local organizations fanned out across East Jefferson County last week searching for the homeless who live in the community.
Their mission: to create a real-time count — a snapshot at one point in time — of those who lack a permanent residence.
The annual Point in Time Count is a national effort to identify sheltered and unsheltered homeless in a community.
The purpose of the survey is to help with planning, providing services and housing to people without homes, and to identify the types of assistance needed.
It is also a requirement for receiving funding from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Washington State Department of Commerce.
During the Point in Time counts, communities are required to identify whether a person is an individual, a member of a family unit, or an unaccompanied youth under the age of 18 or age 18 to 24. In addition, communities must identify if a person is chronically homeless, indicating long-time or repeated homelessness and the presence of a disability.
Some of the questions volunteers asked included where people stayed last night, the length of time they have not had stable housing, if they were fleeing a domestic violence situation, the reasons for their housing status, and income and benefits they receive.
Allison Arthur, senior housing manager for Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), said volunteers from several agencies were engaged in the process but that it has been slow because many of the trained volunteers became ill.
“People from Bayside, Dove House, Discovery Behavioral Healthcare and DSHS all have the forms,” Arthur said. “We’ve reached out to churches too. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church volunteers worked during their Just Soup Wednesday free meal. And, there’s the winter shelter, transitional housing, and the Haines Street Cottages.”
Arthur said one group, in particular, that has been hard to find is those who are aged 14-26.
“Unsheltered youth have been difficult to count,” she said. “Because of the Boiler Room closing, it makes it harder for us to find them. We don’t know where they hang out now.”
Arthur also pointed to the fact that they cannot legally be counted at schools, which makes it all the more difficult.
OlyCAP Housing Director Kathy Morgan said that the homeless population has changed over the last few years, with more senior citizens seeking help from the agency.
“The population that we’re seeing right now is primarily seniors who are being priced out of their housing,” Morgan said.
Arthur said that there are a “solid 100 known people” who consider themselves homeless in East Jefferson County.
The final results of the Point in Time Count will not be available until next month when all of the information can be complied.
Results from previous counts have ranged from a high of 355 individuals and families counted in 2015 to a low of 97 people counted as homeless in 2014.
One of the main issues with this year’s count, volunteers have found, is that some people simply do not want to be found.
“We counted Thursday at Kah Tai Lagoon and there were some individuals who do not want anyone to know where they are staying because they fear the police will tell them they can’t stay there anymore,” Arthur said.
A coordinated effort, better marketing, more targeted messaging, and an incentive for people to make them want to be counted will all be taken into consideration for next year’s count process.
We’ve learned some lessons this year on how to do things differently,” she said. “We will look for a place for people to come to us rather than us going out looking for them.”
“We need to find them.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]