Point in Time Count is for finding those who face uncertainty
Point in Time volunteer Dani Wentz talks to a homeless man while in the background, city of Everett social worker Staci McCole (red coat) works with another homeless person near the intersection on Highway 526 and Evergreen Way on Everett’s south side. Hundreds of people answered surveys in this year’s Point in Time Homeless Count Tuesday, Jan. 24.
EVERETT — “I’m a miracle,” said Toni Curtiss, who is one of the hundreds of struggling but
surviving individuals which volunteer surveyors ran into during last week’s annual Point in Time Count of homeless people.
More than 60 volunteers in
Everett, and dozens of others throughout Snohomish County, set out at 8 a.m. in the frigid, foggy morning, from bases in Arlington, Everett, Lynnwood and Monroe.
Curtiss was one of the first women surveyors encountered. She wore cable knit grey slippers
she said she had just found, before turning to the more serious topics of the survey. She was asked about what caused her homelessness, if she suffered any mental or physical disabilities, and lots of demographic information.
Curtiss answered softly to having cervical cancer, fibromyalgia,
PTSD, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. She attributed her prior six years of homelessness, on and off, to drug addiction, but smiled in triumph when she said she
was now in transitional housing and had been drug-free for a year and a half.
The federally mandated, nation-wide count helps determine fund-ing amounts for homeless services and how they are distributed, including to programs like the one that helped Curtiss find housing.
The one-day snapshot is just a snapshot, but helps take a picture
of how many people are out there. Many declined to be surveyed.
Volunteers combed parks, underpasses, streets and trails to provide the needed data. Police escorts teamed with volunteers to complete surveys at known homeless encampments, and emergency shelters likewise provided tallies of those who used their services.
This year organizers focused on improving data accuracy and determining a baseline number of homeless youth.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is undertaking a concerted effort
to end youth homelessness, said Robin Hood of the Snohomish County Office of Housing and Community Services.
Cocoon House, a homeless youth nonprofit, hosted a special event and did extra outreach to ensure as many homeless individuals younger than 25 were counted.
Volunteer Penni Carter understood the survey from both vantage points, giver and taker. She was on loan from Lutheran Community Services where she works and has an internship concurrent with her social services
studies at Edmonds Community College.
“Now, I’m a mom and a grandmother with a wonder-ful life,” Carter said.
But before the academic and professional accomp-lishments, Carter still vividly remembered the
three months spent homeless as a new mother during another freezing winter.
While she had come a long way over the years, many of the homeless people were far
from achieving her stability.
Survey recipient James Wlos said it was impossible to succeed despite his efforts to work as a truck driver.
“I’m not a drunk, a derelict or shooting drugs.” Wlos complained that “the more counting (agencies) do, the more tickets (police) write,” as he opened a manila folder revealing two recent citations.
The 2017 count figures were not available at press time as they should be released this week, but past numbers show overcoming homeless
is a formidable challenge. In 2016 the county found the number of homeless people surveyed rose nearly 23 percent, from 966 in 2015 to 1,188.
The number included those with no shelter, those in emergency shelters or transitional housing and the precariously housed, sometimes called couch-surfers. Survey participants ranged in age from 6 weeks to 90 years, including 68
children and 69 veterans. Surveyors found 471 of the 1,188 were unsheltered, meaning they had spent the prior night outdoors, in vehicles or abandoned buildings.
Everett count coordinator Danielle Robadey explained to volunteers that the count would only provide a snapshot, not a comprehensive census.
There were several notable exclusions. Surveyors were instructed not to count anyone who declined to take the survey. The survey did not record those in public spaces like libraries, or on transit. Counters also omitted people they did not ask, whether because they felt unsafe approaching, were unsure if the person might be homeless, or missed a person among a group as individuals left churches or other service centers.
Results are most useful for observing trends rather than ascertaining an exact total, Hood, of the county’s human services department, said. Hood added that many factors could affect results, from the number of volunteers to the severity of the weather.
In addition to collecting data, agencies also distributed tangible signs of caring.
At the Salvation Army, volunteers served pastries and coffee, followed by chicken soup for lunch. They kept vibrant fleece blankets and coats stacked nearby, at the ready for those who needed a little help warming up, paired with winter kits including items like hand warmers and socks. There were special information packets for veterans and opportunities to get connected to health care and housing resources.
While the goal of the count is to combat homelessness, mitigating it with supplies and services and eradicating it with funding for
treatment and housing, Curtiss underscored just how difficult that is.
Homeless people “feel like there is no end to misery, very little baby steps seem tremendously hard,” she said. It was hard, Curtiss said, to have hope, but it was a quality that she and the volunteers and agencies who conducted the count shared.
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