In June 2018, the Thurston County Board of Health declared homelessness a public health crisis, pledging action to help alleviate the impact of the growing crisis. In December 2018, after Thurston County adopted its initial Homeless Response Plan, the Washington State Department of Commerce released new guidelines, requiring that local communities amend or re-write their existing 5-year plans. The Board of County Commissioners adopted the updated Thurston County 5-year Homeless Crisis Response Plan for 2019 – 2024
on October 29, 2019.
In the past 18 months, the landscape of homelessness in Thurston County has dramatically changed. In 2019, 394 out of 800 homeless households were identified as unsheltered through the Point-in-Time (PIT) census in January 2019. Yet, the PIT is thought to be a significant undercount. It is estimated that Thurston County has between 800-1000 unsheltered individuals living in the woods, on the streets, and in unmanaged encampments.
Some statistics about the unsheltered population include:
- Youth are homeless in every county in the state, and most are local (Department of Commerce). In Thurston County, 23% of the homeless population are school-aged children.
- Across 34 counties (Washington balance of state) roughly 89-90 percent of the people entering homelessness were entering the homeless crisis response system for the first time.
- In Thurston County, 2018 rent rates were 115% of Social Security Income. All things being equal, as rent grows, homelessness increases. (Department of Commerce)
When the first homeless response plan was drafted (2016-17), there were significantly fewer unhoused individuals (189, according to 2017 PIT). Our community is growing at an unprecedented rate, and our homeless population, primarily driven by rising rental costs according to Department of Commerce
, reflects that growth. There have been similar levels of growth in the unsheltered community at a state-wide level.
With so much at stake, and with so much of the community involved, in one way or another, it’s more important than ever that we pull together as a region to implement changes and move toward solutions. In addition, this ‘regional approach’ will be the best use of public funds, allowing money to be leveraged across the region.
- Quickly identify and engage all people experiencing homelessness (as defined by state), and all unaccompanied youth (as defined by federal government), through outreach and coordination between every system that encounters people experiencing homelessness.
- Prioritize housing for people with the greatest need. This includes the requirement that all shelter be “low barrier.” This simply means that within any eligibility requirements (which may be different for each site or project), coordinators must prioritize offers of shelter based on highest vulnerability (as determined by law).
- Operate an effective and efficient homeless crisis response system that swiftly moves people into stable permanent housing.
- Project the impact of the fully implemented local plan on the number of households, and the number of households left unsheltered, assuming existing resources and state policies remain unchanged.
- Address racial disparities among people experiencing homelessness.
The Homeless Crisis Response plan is dynamic and can be adjusted as we learn more, and as new strategies are implemented. It will guide the actions of the region—and with more organizations getting involved than ever before—it is a way to move forward with strong positive changes, both for the homeless as well as for the community-at-large.