Early in the morning on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, about 1,000 volunteers and guides traveled throughout King County to count all the homeless people who were sleeping outside after the shelters were full and closed. We count homeless people in lots of ways, but this count, called Count Us In, is the most important one because the results can influence federal funding for homelessness efforts. We need more funding because there is not enough for shelter and affordable housing.
This is the second count operated by All Home King County, an agency that coordinates regional homelessness efforts. I was involved in both of the All Home counts. The way All Home does the count is different than it was when the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (skcch) ran the One Night Count. skcch released the results the same day as the count.
All Home will take the numbers and analyze them with a statistical company in California before releasing the numbers in the spring. All Home’s count will go into more detail than just people sleeping outside. They are counting people in shelter and transitional housing as well. They are even counting homeless children.
I contacted All Home in December to ask them if they needed help recruiting guides for Count Us In. All Home hires guides who are homeless or formerly homeless to use their street smarts to help volunteers look for homeless people in different locations. All Home said they did need help.
I spent five hours a week recruiting guides until the count. So any time I was not selling Real Change, I was going around King County recruiting people for Count Us In. I thought it was going to be easy, but it wasn’t. I’m used to recruiting for Real Change to bring on more vendors. This is a little bit different than that. I was not recruiting for a job; I was recruiting for a one-night gig. When I talked to the people who wanted to get involved, they thought they were going to get paid for the whole time from 2 to 6 a.m. But they didn’t know they only got paid during the time they were out doing the count. If they got back early, they would get paid less. The guides were getting paid $15 an hour.
Each group of two to four volunteers had one guide. Then we were divided up in sections of the county. We were supposed to walk around counting homeless people outside: when they were sleeping in tents, cars, doorways or RVs; when they were walking around; or when they were sleeping on a bus. Each group had a person with a car to take us to our destination then walk around in that area.
My group went to Montlake, with high-end houses near the Arboretum. It was cold, wet and muddy. It was very dark with barely any city lights. I saw a few tents along the freeway and a cot right underneath the freeway. One tent was a five- to six-person tent. There was also a van that someone was sleeping in.
I thought there would be more people outside of downtown Seattle, but there weren’t as many in this area.
I am worried the count will not be that accurate this year.
The count is always an undercount; we can’t find everyone. But this year I talked to some of the guides I recruited. The guides said that the teams were not leaving their cars enough. Some of them walked around like they were supposed to, but others stayed in their cars, counting people as they went along. To get a better count of people sleeping, you should be walking around, not just going to where you expect homeless people to be.
I told people that they needed to get out of their cars. We found more people when we were on foot, not in the car.
I am not saying this to be mean, but it is the truth of how I feel about this year’s count. I just hope the people who want to do this next year will have more people on their feet instead of in their car.
Lisa Sawyer is a Real Change vendor, president of the Real Change Advisory Board, a member of the Resident Action Council and a housing advocate.
Wait, there's more. Check out the full Jan. 31 - Feb. 6 issue.