OLYMPIA – On Thursday, January 24, 2019, Thurston County will conduct the annual Homeless Census to determine who in Thurston County is homeless and why. The Homeless Census is part of a nationwide “Point in Time” (PIT) Count of Homeless People.
With the dramatic increase in visible homelessness in the urban hub and other parts of Thurston County, this year’s PIT Homeless Census has taken on a greater sense of urgency. The number of homeless people nearly doubled from 441 in 2016 to 835 in 2018. Results of the PIT Homeless Census will help to guide our public funding and policy making. The final report will also include an assessment of available resources to help people get back to independence.
"We have never had this many unsheltered people on our streets and in our woods across the County in cities both big and small,” said Schelli Slaughter, Director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services. “Now more than ever, we need to work together to learn how we can help solve this crisis.”
During the PIT Homeless Census, all shelter and transitional housing providers will count people staying with them on the night of the count and volunteers will fan out across the County to find unsheltered homeless residents living out of doors, in vehicles, in abandoned buildings, and other places not intended for human habitation. Homeless guides will also go into homeless camps to survey residents.
Other activities will include street outreach and outreach to regular community meals, food banks, and other places that offer survival commodities. Four homeless outreach events include:
- Single adults: Providence Community Care Center in Olympia
- Youth: Rosie’s Place – Community Youth Services in Olympia
- Families: Family Support Center – Downtown Olympia headquarters (prior their move to the Westside)
- Rural People: Rochester Organization of Families - Rochester
Volunteers from across Thurston County assist with homeless census activities. Volunteers include residents from local schools and colleges, non-profit organizations, faith communities, businesses, elected officials, and the homeless themselves.
Commission Chair John Hutchings, who participates in the PIT Homeless Census each year, said, “While it's hard to ask the questions and hear the stories of our house-less neighbors, it's always a deeply moving experience to see people from across the County coming together to help. Without these volunteers, we couldn’t do this important activity.”
The results of this census are compiled into the County’s annual “Point in Time Count of Homeless Persons Report”, often referred to as the annual homeless census report, and is used to strengthen a more regional approach to the issue. This report serves to:
- Accurate Count of Homeless People, the causes of their homelessness and other demographic information;
- Quantifies Needs based on numbers of homeless people, which in turn brings in federal and state dollars to provide homeless shelter, transitional housing and other services;
- Assessment of Resources current available resources; and
- Analysis of Needs and Resources to serve as the basis for local strategic responses to homelessness.
Homelessness is an issue that affects the individuals experiencing homelessness, but it also impacts other parts of our community. “It’s critical for our County to know who the homeless are before we can figure out how to help them get back on their feet,” said Olympia Council Member Jessica Bateman. “This is very important in Olympia, because most of the existing resources are concentrated here. When our homeless safety net fails, it hurts not only our homeless neighbors, but it also impacts our downtown and neighborhoods.”
Background on the Thurston County Homeless Census
Annually, in January, all Washington counties conduct a “Point in Time” count of homeless persons as mandated by the State of Washington’s Homeless Housing and Assistance Act (RCW 43.185C.030). This statute requires each County to “make every effort to count all homeless individuals living outdoors, in shelters, and in transitional housing, coordinated when reasonably feasible, with already existing homeless census projects including those funded in part by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the McKinney-Vento homeless assistance program”.
The County reports census results to the state and federal governments to ensure a proportionate level of public funding for local shelters, transitional housing, and related supportive services. These numbers also help to create the most accurate picture of homelessness throughout the state and across the nation. Locally, census results are shared with all community stakeholders— policy makers, funders, service providers, concerned citizens, and the homeless themselves.
Thurston County is the owner of the Homeless Census project but contracts, via Interlocal Agreement, with the City of Olympia to conduct the census.