Kelli Jo Hurley, an Air Force and Iraq War veteran, approached a man wearing a tattered plaid shirt. She asked politely, would he mind answering a few questions? No problem, he knew it was the day of the Point in Time homeless count.
The man, who identified himself only by the initials R.D.T., said he had been homeless since the 1990s.
"I'll be 62 in two days," he said. And yes, he told Hurley, he served in the military -- "in the Army, but that goes back a long time."
When she asked where he slept the night before, his answer was brief and stark: "Outside." When icy fog recently gripped Everett, he said he slept at the Salvation Army, not far from the Everett Public Library where Hurley found him Thursday. "It has to be freezing or below to stay there," he said.
Hurley was one of about 150 volunteers around Snohomish County gathering information Thursday for the 2013 Point in Time count. The one-day tally is a requirement for communities receiving state and federal money to fight homelessness.
In 2012, the count identified 2,387 people and 1,410 households as being homeless, with about 800 people under age 18. Those figures were up slightly from 2011, when 2,249 people were counted.
Although inexact, the numbers help Snohomish County determine specific needs, and get a share of funding in proportion to the local homeless population.
Anji Jorstad, a spokeswoman for the community's Homeless Policy Task Force, said a preliminary total from Thursday's count would be released as early as today. Final figures are expected in February, she said.
"There isn't any one main cause of homelessness," said Jorstad, who works for Bridgeways, a nonprofit housing and employment program. "There's domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse and folks losing jobs. There's the perception that it's all somehow because of bad decisions. Once you're on the inside, it's so much more complex."
Hurley, 31, was volunteering Thursday, but her job with Catholic Community Services of Western Washington also reaches out to homeless veterans. "A lot of them have physical and mental health issues. My program seeks to help them find employment," said Hurley, a former aircraft electrician who spent 12 years in the Air Force.
Not everyone counted as homeless sleeps on the street.
Area shelters, including the men's and women's shelters run by the Everett Gospel Mission, provide counts of current residents, said Jeanita Nelson, volunteer services manager with Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.
Working at the Salvation Army in Everett on Thursday, Nelson was overseeing the Point in Time count in central Snohomish County. Count volunteers also worked from sites in Lynnwood, Sultan and north Snohomish County.
Volunteers began their day with a short training.
"This is people telling their story. We are kind of going into their homes," Bre Andrews, an administrative assistant at Salvation Army, told volunteers Thursday morning. She provided volunteers with cold-weather packets, containing hats, hand warmers and other items, to give the people being surveyed, along with information about veterans' benefits.
Early Thursday, three volunteers from Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County looked for homeless encampments near the railroad tracks along Everett's waterfront and near the Snohomish River.
Tami Krell is a homeless community advocate with the agency that helps domestic violence victims. She was joined by volunteers Carole Schettler and Suzanne Wren, also with Domestic Violence Services. "Domestic violence is the number one cause of homelessness in Snohomish County for women and children," Krell said.
No one was camped by the river under a Highway 529 bridge Thursday, where Krell counted people in previous years. Many homeless people aren't in plain sight.
"We have 18 women and children in our confidential shelter right now -- and it's a 15-bed shelter," Wren said.
In Everett later, Hurley asked another homeless man some questions about services or things he might need. The survey lists 30 possible needs -- among them a short-term place to stay, food, bus tickets, medical care and a long list of other things most of us consider necessities.
The man, a 52-year-old who said he once worked in food service, reported one simple want. "Clothes," he said.
It was amazing to hear that. With so much need, he didn't ask for much.
"It's a humbling experience," Jorstad said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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