OLYMPIA -- Thurston County Public Health and Social Services (PHSS) has released the full Thurston County 2020 Point in Time (PIT) Homeless Census Report. This report details the results of the January 23, 2020 PIT Homeless Census, a countywide effort to learn who is homeless and why.
This year, the PIT found 995 people experiencing homelessness. One hundred fifty-nine were in transitional housing and 295 people were in emergency shelter. More than half, or 541, were unsheltered or homeless. This represents a 35% percent, or a 147 person increase since 2019. The increase may be due in part to some methodology changes, yet it is important to acknowledge the reality of more individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Some of the significant findings about the 995 respondents include:
- 54 percent were unsheltered
- 61 percent identified as being from Thurston County (up from 54 percent in 2019)
- 74 percent of those from Thurston County identified as having lived in Thurston County for one year or more before becoming homeless
- 27 percent identified as having slept in a vehicle, RV, boat, or abandoned building (up from 15 percent in 2019)
- The two leading causes of homelessness were eviction and job loss
The data also shows black, indigenous people of color are disproportionally represented in the unsheltered population. The American Indian/Alaska Native population comprises 1% of Thurston County’s general population yet represents 4% of the houseless population. Three percent of Thurston County residents are African American, yet 7% of the unsheltered population are African American.
Adjustments in methodology may have contributed to the increased count of unsheltered individuals and families. However, it is important to acknowledge the increase of unsheltered people in Thurston County. Eighty-two percent of survey takers indicated they had been houseless for less than one year. Adjustments to methodology included:
- Offering gift cards to people with lived experience to administer surveys in encampments significantly increased participation.
- Adding seven-day counts, a strategy approved by HUD, also increased the possibility of rural and other hard to count individuals completing surveys.
- Increasing participation from local jurisdictions creating meaningful participation unique to each participating city with camp outreach and magnet events to increase the total number of surveys collected county-wide.
“It is encouraging that the 2020 PIT census offered an expanded regional effort to understand what homelessness looks like in our county. Although the data is not 100% representative of all people experiencing homelessness, it is a vital tool to create strategic and meaningful responses to this humanitarian crisis as a region,” said Keylee Marineau, County Homeless Prevention and Affordable Housing Coordinator. “Regional momentum is crucial moving forward, especially as we continue to respond to homelessness during a pandemic and anticipate thousands of people losing their housing due to potential evictions.”
Schelli Slaughter, Director of Thurston County PHSS said, “The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the release of this year’s 2020 PIT Census data. We completed analysis of the 2020 PIT data in mid-March but the onset of COVID-19 slowed down verification processes.” Slaughter added, “We are unsure what the 2021 PIT census will look like because of the pandemic. We will work closely with Thurston County’s Continuum of Care and the State Department of Commerce to determine the best option for completing the census while keeping all involved safe.”
The shelters in the homeless crisis response system changed nightly operations to meet CDC and Public Health guidance for safety during COVID-19 by decreasing the number of beds available by half in some cases. This is decrease will inevitably impact the “sheltered” count during the 2021 PIT as well.