Published on February 10th, 2016 | by The Kitsap Scene0
Homeless Count Reveals Increase in Kitsap County’s Unsheltered
Kitsap County’s annual Point in Time Count, also known as the homeless census, revealed a 30 percent increase in the amount of homeless people residing within the county.
The following press release from the county explains more about the count and what it means for the county:
During the annual Kitsap County Point in Time Count, a survey that took place over a 24-hour period in January to identify those living homeless, 644 individuals were counted – a 30 percent increase since last year. Preliminary results for Kitsap identified 217 individuals living unsheltered in cars, abandoned buildings, the streets, tents, or other places, a figure more than double last year’s count.
Kirsten Jewell, coordinator of the Kitsap County Human Services’ Housing and Homelessness Program, noted, “This is a huge increase in unsheltered homeless, on top of smaller increases the last few years. It’s a reflection of both the growing number of our citizens who are forced to live outside and the fact that we worked hard to improve our methods of counting people this year.”
In a 31 percent increase over last year, an additional 202 individuals were counted as “doubled up” or “couch surfing” – living temporarily with family and friends. Approximately 75 people were living in emergency shelters and 150 housed in subsidized transitional housing units. The survey includes the number of homeless veterans, and children and youth living without a home.
The state of Washington mandates the annual survey statewide. Results provide agencies and local officials with real-time data that shows changing trends and needs of the county’s homeless population. About 10 additional faith-based outreach workers, free meal sites, veterans’ organizations, and food banks participated in the Point in Time Count, including locations in Kingston and Port Orchard.
“These numbers are unacceptable for our county,” said Commissioner Ed Wolfe, chair of the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners. “Commissioners have made it a top priority to address this problem and are voting on an emergency ordinance this month that will allow for additional temporary solutions. We need to continue tackling this problem sooner than later because the numbers are increasing. It’s especially disturbing to see the number of veterans living homeless in our county. We need to take care of them.”
This year, the “Homes for All Who Served” initiative, spearheaded by a network of organizations aiming to end homelessness among Kitsap veterans, did extra outreach to find more homeless veterans to include in the count. Approximately 93 veterans were surveyed, including 28 living outdoors, more than three times the number who were unsheltered last year.
“We knew we needed to expand our efforts to count homeless veterans this year because our Point in Time count of veterans is the basis for Kitsap receiving additional federal funding for veteran subsidized housing in the form of Veterans Assistance Supportive Housing vouchers,” said Kurt Wiest, executive director of the Bremerton Housing Authority.
The Point in Time Count is considered to be an undercount of the real number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness because the count is dependent on how many people can be found during the survey period and the fact that not everyone is willing to take the survey. Many communities multiply their Point in Time Count by 2.2 as an estimate of the actual number of unsheltered individuals. Other counties around the state also report elevated numbers of people experiencing homelessness. King County had a 19 percent increase this year and a 40 percent increase over the last two years. Snohomish County reported a 54 percent increase this year.
The Washington State Department of Commerce Housing Unit will certify Kitsap County’s count over the next month then report results to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Although these are preliminary numbers, they certainly reflect what we are seeing on the street and in homeless programs: much higher numbers of households struggling with the basic human need of shelter,” said Jewell. “One of the biggest challenges for ending homelessness is our affordable housing crisis. We simply do not have enough housing units that are affordable to lower income households, forcing them into poverty and homelessness.”
Kitsap County Commissioners approved a new Kitsap Homeless Housing Plan at the end of 2015 and implementation is underway, including a hard look at how to increase affordable housing units. An emergency ordinance to allow for transitory accommodations hosted by churches and non-profit organizations will be before Commissioners for approval Feb. 22, providing interim regulations until permanent regulations are developed through a full public process.
Held in conjunction with the annual Point in Time Count, an event called Project Connect offers access to valuable resources for individuals and families who may be homeless or face the imminent risk of homelessness. On Jan. 27 this year, 500 low-income and homeless residents attended Project Connect at the Sheridan Park Community Center in Bremerton. Over 50 organizations provided services including housing referrals, immunizations, eye exams, health screenings, rabies shots, sleeping bags, coats and haircuts. More than 40 volunteers assisted with Point in Time Count surveying and other duties. The Salvation Army provided participants with a hot meal and sack lunch to go. About 25 students from the North Kitsap Options middle school program in Kingston were on hand to serve the food.
Project Connect is coordinated by the Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition, a network which includes homeless and affordable housing service providers as well as organizations serving homeless and low-income residents.
Terry Schroeder of Kitsap Community Resources who serves as coordinator of the Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition noted, “Project Connect continues to be a successful event with the information and services provided. We thank the City of Bremerton for the use of their facility, and all the volunteers and organizations who help make it a success.”
For information on the Veterans Assistance Fund that provides temporary emergency assistance to veterans in need, visitwww.kitsapgov.com/hs/