More than 450 people in Kitsap County are homeless and over 170 of them are living in places not meant for human habitation, according to Kitsap County’s annual January 2019 Point-In-Time Count survey, released this month. Preliminary results show a 17-percent increase in unsheltered homelessness from 2018 and a 5-percent increase over the average of the last three years.
The spike in unsheltered homelessness includes those living on the streets, and in vehicles, abandoned buildings and the woods. This year’s count also reflects an overall 6-percent increase over 2018 of those who are homeless living in emergency and transitional shelters. Surveys were collected throughout the county during a 24-hour period at the end of January. During that time, 487 individuals were living homeless in various situations, with 174 living in places not meant for human habitation.
“The increase in this year’s Point-In-Time Count shows we have a lot of work to do to identify the underlying causes of homelessness and through our community partnerships and coalitions, move swiftly to implement solutions,” said Commissioner Ed Wolfe, chair of the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners. “From exploring options for more affordable housing to our Homes for All group that is building a tiny house village to provide temporary accommodations, we’re committed to addressing the circumstances that prevent all citizens from having safe, decent, affordable housing.”
The survey showed 158 people living in emergency shelters (including two overnight shelters), and 155 housed in subsidized transitional housing units. Many additional individuals and households are “doubled up” or “couch surfing” – living temporarily with family and friends – which makes it extremely difficult to get an accurate count of this demographic.
Every year, efforts are made to improve the surveying process. In 2019, more than 120 citizen volunteers donated over 450 hours, helping with outreach surveying. Kirsten Jewell, Housing and Homelessness Division Coordinator for Kitsap County Human Services, said, “It’s exciting to see so many community members stepping up to volunteer for this project. Clearly there is a lot of community awareness of homelessness and a strong desire to help.”
In addition to surveying at food banks and community meal sites, volunteers paired with experienced outreach workers to survey encampments, parking lots, and people living on the street. This year, Kitsap County did a small pilot program to recruit and work with people who have experienced homelessness to gain their expertise in order to improve the Point-In-Time Count.
“We are confident this year’s survey results are more accurate,” Jewell said. “We do know there are other people that either we don’t find, or who don’t want to be found. We recognize these results do not include everyone experiencing homelessness.”
A significant factor in the number of unsheltered versus sheltered people over the last few years is the addition of overnight shelter beds hosted by the Salvation Army, serving 60-plus people per night. The Salvation Army Winter Shelter is slated to close until next winter on March 31. The Kitsap Rescue Mission also provides beds for 20-plus people per night.
The state of Washington mandates an annual Point-In-Time Count over a 24-hour period across the state. Results provide agencies and local officials data about changing trends and identifies needs of the homeless population. Because participating in the survey is voluntary, and relies on volunteers finding people experiencing homelessness, it is considered to be an under count of the actual number of homeless. Many communities multiply their Point-in-Time Count number by 220 percent as an estimate of the real number of unsheltered individuals.
The Washington State Department of Commerce Housing Assistance Unit will certify Kitsap’s count over the next few months and then report statewide results to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
“Although these are preliminary numbers, they certainly reflect what we are seeing on the street and in homeless programs – higher numbers of households struggling with the basic human need of shelter,” said Jewell.
Project Connect service fairs are held in conjunction with the Kitsap County Point-in-Time Count and offer access to valuable resources for individuals and families who may be homeless or face the imminent risk of homelessness. This year, three Project Connect events were held in Bremerton, Kingston and Port Orchard to expand access to services throughout the county and more than 300 low-income and homeless residents attended. Over 50 organizations provided services including housing referrals, immunizations, eye exams, health screenings, rabies shots, sleeping bags, coats, haircuts, and more.
The Salvation Army also provided participants with a hot lunch in Bremerton and Port Orchard. About 25 students from the North Kitsap Options middle school program in Kingston helped with the event in Bremerton and prepared and served meals at the Kingston Project Connect.
Kitsap Housing and Homelessness Coalition, a community network of homeless and affordable housing service providers and organizations serving low-income residents, coordinates Project Connect.
For more information
To view an overview and preliminary data for the 2019 Kitsap County Point-In-Time Count, click here.
To learn more about available homeless and housing resources, go to the Continuum of Care website http://www.kitsaphhc.org/ or visit the Kitsap County Housing and Homelessness Division at https://www.kitsapgov.com/hs/Pages/HH-Housing-and-Homelessness-Landing.aspx .
For more information, contact Sheryl Piercy, chair of the Housing and Homelessness Coalition, at (360) 377-5560, email@example.com or Kirsten Jewell, Housing and Homelessness Program Coordinator of Kitsap County Human Services at (360) 337-7286, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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