January’s point-in-time count of homeless people in King County has finally finished being cooked!
There was a 15 percent increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people in the county overall.
In spite of that big increase, the total homeless count increased by only 4 percent, and that was mainly due to one-time conversions of transitional housing to permanent housing. While it’s wonderful that so many people who would have been in transitional housing are now fully housed, there’s only so much transitional housing that can be converted before that method of keeping the sheltered numbers down stops helping.
The other main method that is keeping the sheltered down, as opposed to unsheltered numbers, namely not fund any more shelters, was working great. Somehow 2.7 percent more homeless people got shoehorned into pretty much the same emergency shelters as did last year. Maybe they moved mats closer together and added a few.
The point is, if shelter space isn’t expanding, people newly becoming homeless have to go somewhere and it’s not to shelters that are already full, so it’s to cars. Cars are really in this year. Cars are the new tents.
I feel like such a trendsetter. I started wearing Hawaiian shirts all year round in Seattle in 2001, way back before all the other old fogeys picked it up. I’ve been Pemco guy No. 56, sandals-and-socks guy, since at least the 1970s. And I lived out of a car in the 1980s, before a lot of these people doing it now were even born.
There were almost 46 percent more people living in cars this year than last year. I did the math on that, of course, and I worked out that if that continues and every year from now there are 46 percent more homeless people each year living in cars in King County, in 20 years there’d be way too many cars being lived in.
Seriously, this is unreal. Last year there were 2,341 people counted sleeping in cars. This year the count was 3,372.
And we know exactly where they came from! They were people living in housing last year who had jobs and who could afford car payments, whose rent was increased to more than they could bear. They aren’t outsiders coming in, “taking our jobs, using our great services.” We don’t have great services. They already had jobs. That’s how they got the cars.
I know exactly how the calculation goes. You have a job, it pays $2,000 a month, say. Your apartment was $600 a month 10 years ago, you bought a car with the extra, you were getting by, and then the rent climbed, and now the landlord wants $1,500 per month and you think, “I could get rid of the car, but next year the rent will be $1,700, and the next year it will be $1,900, so I’m going to be homeless and sleeping outdoors. Or I can keep the car and have it to sleep in.”
If you know you’re going to be homeless anyway no matter what you do, you might as well hang on to the vehicle and be homeless in relative safety. Sure, cars get cold at night, but they have locks and they aren’t as drafty as doorways and sidewalks.
I think I’d rather have a cow and wagon, on account of the companionship and milk. Cows are good listeners. But I have to keep reminding myself that now is not the time to have a cow.
Besides the point-in-time count, a survey was also conducted of homeless people desiring socks. I mean, socks were distributed as an incentive to get people to do a survey that would tell the Count Us In folks things that survey-givers like to know, such as “Who are you?” “What do you want?” and “Does this clipboard make me look fat?”
Based on this survey we now know that this year in January, 98 percent of all homeless people who were happy enough to get free, dry socks in return for doing a survey said that what they wanted was to not be homeless.
This is very important. Just last month I was out in the community talking about such issues, and after the speaking event was over, a very sincere woman came to me and told me there was no point in helping people out of homelessness because most people who are homeless want to be.
Now we know those people are mainly in that minority who don’t care for socks.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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