died homeless this year in Snohomish County
EVERETT — Fifty-three people, if not more, died in Snohomish County without shelter during the past 12 months.
At the county’s Homeless Remembrance Day Vigil on Dec. 21 — the longest night of the year — a bell rang after each name to honor each individual. Seven were veterans.
Each person was someone’s mother, someone’s father, someone’s daughter, son, relative, friend or fellow, Mike Schanche from the county’s Veterans Services Office said.
The list is not exhaustive. Organizers gather names from sources who work with the homeless population and from news stories of deceased people.
But it is one of the longest lists of county residents who died on the streets in the vigil’s 10-year history.
The number of people who are living homeless has grown.
In the county’s annual, one-day Point in Time Count of homelessness in January 2020, volunteer counters found and interviewed 1,132 homeless people. Of these, 673 people were living without shelter, and 459 people were in a sheltered but
not-secure living situation, such as on a friend’s couch.
Shelters today have had to limit capacity to meet coronavirus safety measures. By County Executive Dave Somers’ order, the county set up an emergency shelter in the Carnegie Building in downtown Everett after people began camping in large groups. The Carnegie’s basement houses about 40 to 50 people nightly, county human services director Mary Jane Brell Vujovic said in November. (The county is actively working to establish a permanent shelter. It must first identify and purchase a building to retrofit into the permanent shelter, Brell Vujovic said.)
People experiencing chronic homelessness — classified as more than 12 months of being homeless or having multiple long stints of homelessness over the past 36 months — represents more than 50 percent of the county’s homeless population. Among unsheltered people, more than half of the population are also chronically homeless. The heavier representation in the annual counts has been like that since 2017, from analyzing count data from the past 10 years.
The number of people who are experiencing long-term homelessness is outpacing the number of new shelter beds and housing to provide long-term housing, the county noted.
The chances of dying prematurely are higher for homeless individuals, albeit people experiencing homelessness often die from the same mortal causes as the housed. Being unsheltered is what worsens the odds and increases the risk of premature death, according to a 2005 report from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.
The county’s 10th annual vigil Dec. 21 was not done with a traditional public gathering outdoors to have people acknowledge feeling winter’s sharp chill. The prayerful ceremonies were streamed on video and can be seen on YouTube.
The vigil’s keynote speaker was Todd Mitchell, who works with homeless men daily at the Everett Gospel Mission’s Men’s Shelter. Mitchell read a poem for his comments. Its last lines: “As we lay you to rest, know you are never alone. You carry on in our hearts, our friend.”