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Forum talks homeless issues in Snohomish on Thursday

SNOHOMISH —  A panel on homelessness this Thursday, April 27 at Snohomish High is intended to open up a conversation in town.
It starts at 6:30 p.m. in the PAC.
Homelessness hasn’t received a spotlight public forum like this locally in years, but some key indicators show it is growing in Snohomish.
Organizer Seanna Herring-Jensen, who saw a similar event this year in Lake Stevens spark ideas, sees this brainstorming session as timely.
“It’s to help educate the community and let the city hear what the concerns are,” said Herring-Jensen, who manages family center programs in Lake Stevens and elsewhere for Lutheran Community Services Northwest.
Agencies have already mobilized efforts in other communities. Thursday’s forum will have Elizabeth Grant from the Snoho-mish Community Food Bank, a school district homeless student
liaison, and representatives from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, teen shelter Cocoon House, Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County and housing agencies on the panel.
Public opinion is encouraged.
“We want people to come with an open mind; we’re not looking to enable the problem” but give a way to help people, Harring-Jensen said.
The homeless population on paper is growing, but some pockets may be going unseen.
Seniors on fixed incomes are one, Herring-Jensen said. As waves of Baby Boomers reach Social Security age at 65, they’re finding the cost of living rising beyond what their monthly checks alone can provide.
By the numbers, there are 775 city residents who earn less than $25,000 a year, the city reports, which it says is “a far higher percentage of low income households than the county as a whole.”
Herring-Jensen said rising rent costs make things difficult.
From 2011 to 2015, countywide the average rent for a one-bedroom unit went from $753 a month to $976 a month, from county figures. In-town rent figures were not immediately available.
The Snohomish Community Food Bank may see the number of homeless people it serves go up by 40 percent this year if the trend holds.
So far, 48 homeless clients have been served with easy-to-carry to-go bags in the first quarter, which if extrapolated could pencil out to 184 people by year’s end. Last year, the food bank served 127 homeless clients through its bag program, up from 110 in 2015, Grant said.
There are pre-packaged to-go bags always ready to take for homeless people. The to-go bags are a smaller load people can carry versus the armloads of supplementary food people can get from being served at the food bank, and that’s by design for people walking in by foot or bicycle. Homeless people can come to the food bank weekly for the bags.
The number of senior clients age 55 and older tends to stay flat, Grant said. During the last fiscal year from July 2015 to last June, the food bank served 470 seniors among the 2,539 people it served. People 55 and older make up about one-third of the adult population the food bank served.
The food bank overall is seeing less people year to year; that’s down 14 percent, Grant said.
The number of homeless students is also rising in the Snohomish School District, based on how many utilize the federal McKinney-Vento Act. The act keeps homeless children in school.
This year, 120 Snohomish students are served under McKinney-Vento. Last year it was 84 and the year before it was 66. The district has a student body of about 10,000 kids.
Cleanups along the Lowell-Snohomish River Road removed the most visible cluster of homeless people. Social services workers participated to try to bring people into care.
Snohomish doesn’t have a homeless family services center. The centers help guide people through hard times. People with cars sometimes drive to the Lake Stevens center for care, Herring-Jensen said.
She said she’d love to see a family center open up here.
The homelessness forum will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 27 in Snohomish High School’s Performing Arts Center (PAC) Building, 1315 5th Street.
Mayor Tom Hamilton is expected to moderate.


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