Outreach events in Rochester, Tenino, Yelm and Olympia help capture critical data
Staff and volunteers from across Thurston County completed a two-day blitz of activities and events this past Saturday for the 2015 countywide homeless census. Several special outreach events complemented the annual canvasing efforts done by hundreds of volunteers, gathering critical data about homelessness and housing challenges for urban residents, suburban and rural residents, and young people in Thurston County. -30-
"Doing the census and these outreach events gives policy makers lots of good information, plus it's an opportunity for us to shine a light on the issue of homelessness in our community and educate the public about the scope of the challenges our neighbors are facing," said Thurston County Chair and HOME Consortium member Cathy Wolfe. "Of course, we couldn't do it without the hundreds of volunteers who pitch in each year and make a difference in this community. Many thanks to everyone who volunteered."
The Thurston County homeless census and the Homeless Connect resource fairs are part of an annual nationwide "Point in Time" homeless count designed to help determine who is homeless, why, and what resources are needed to help people get back to independence.
"We can't help people get out of homelessness if we don't know what made them homeless in the first place. With better information gathered from the census, we can invest in the programs that we know really work," said Thurston County HOME Consortium Chair Neil McClanahan, who also is Tumwater's Mayor Pro-tem. McClanahan has volunteered with the annual census and the Homeless Connect events for the past 10 years.
A special focus of the 2015 homeless census was to reach out to residents struggling with homelessness in Thurston County's suburban and rural communities. Along with the established Homeless Connect resource fairs in downtown Olympia and Yelm, census organizers also hosted a new Homeless Connect events in Rochester and Tenino to reach more individuals and families without stable housing who live in areas outside of the county's urban core. The three suburban-rural Homeless Connect events helped gather critical data from 35 individuals, but event organizers know there are many more rural and suburban residents they want to survey in the next census.
"Our suburban and rural residents struggling to find affordable housing can be hard to survey and count for this census. They're usually not living on the street or in makeshift camps. They're more likely to be living in cars, campers and old RVs, or doubling up with another family," said Thurston County Homeless System Coordinator Theresa Slusher. "But it's critically important that we survey suburban and rural residents during the annual homeless census. This information helps us understand the gaps in our homeless and housing system, so we can target resources to where the needs are."
Census organizers also wanted to reach more street-dependent youth who are often hard to find using other census methods. Thursday's Youth Count! event at the Artesian Well in downtown Olympia featured live music, a youth-run hot dog stand, social services and survival resources. Because statistics show that up to 40 percent of street-dependent youth identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or questioning, census organizers made special efforts to make the event an LGBT-friendly with iconic rainbow flags, rainbow-themed shirts for census takers, and a festive atmosphere. Census takers were able to gather important information and data from 30 young people at the Youth Count! event.
"We made a special effort this year to create a safe and welcoming environment for homeless and street dependent youth who live in our area. These young people not only deal with homelessness, many of them also deal with abuse, domestic violence or harassment. This makes it critical to approach them in a safe manner to let them know we are not there to hurt them. Youth Count! was all that and more—the youth were clearly happy to be there." said Anna Schlecht, coordinator of the annual homeless census.
The annual Thurston County Homeless Census is coordinated by the City of Olympia, which has a contract with Thurston County to do the census. The results of the census are used to help guide federal, state and local funding decisions for local shelters, transitional housing, and related supportive services. The Thurston County HOME Consortium oversees the annual census and uses the data to help make recommendations for the multi-jurisdictional administration of the county's housing programs.