June 18, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 25

News

Spokane County sees spike in number of homeless people

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

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Spokane County saw a sharp increase in the number of unsheltered people in its annual point-in-time count of homeless people.

Volunteers and city officials around the region spent Jan. 23 surveying how many people were accessing services and whether they were staying in emergency shelter, staying in transitional housing or sleeping outdoors. The count is organized by the city of Spokane.

Participants found 1,149 people in 2014, up 12 percent from the 1,030 people they found last year. Volunteers counted 155 people who slept outdoors, up 158 percent from 2013 when they counted 60.

Sheila Morley, a program coordinator for the city of Spokane’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department, said service providers were more successful reaching homeless people in this year’s count.

Morley said additional funding helped make a difference. The city spent $110,000 over the last year on outreach and case management at two drop-in centers. Staff members spent more time working with homeless people, who she said were more likely to show up and be counted.

Service providers were also interested in getting a more accurate number, because the 2013 figures seemed too low.

“It doesn’t give the scope of the number of people we serve every year,” Morley said.

An encampment sweep in 2013, just before the point-in-time count, also may have contributed to the low number.

On Jan. 10, 2013, city workers notified people living under the Interstate 90 viaduct that they had 24 hours to clear their tents and find another place to stay. There were some 50 people living under the viaduct, near where the city had constructed a skate park, tennis courts and a parking lot.

People had slept under the viaduct for years, but the population had grown so that not everyone was covered by the structure.

The Washington State Department of Commerce collects point-in-time data from all the counties. It is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness released its numbers immediately after its one-night count in January. Almost 1,000 volunteers do a head count outdoors early in the morning.

Seattle volunteers found 3,123 in January, a 14 percent increase from 2013.

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