Volunteers count number of county’s homeless

Maybe they expected to see the face of homelessness. Volunteers didn’t just see one type of face during Thursday’s Point in Time count of homeless men, women and children.

While not exact, the annual event gives Snohomish County agencies a clearer idea of how widespread the problem is here, and who is homeless. The one-day count is required for communities getting state and federal money for programs that work to end homelessness.

On a street near a north Everett supermarket, three volunteers happened upon stark evidence that homelessness affects all sorts of people.

From a half-block away, volunteers Lisa Moe, Wendy Grove and Amy Rowland saw through the fog a man pushing a shopping cart stuffed with couch cushions, bedding, old papers and canned food.

Identifying himself as Robert Martin, 59, the bundled-up man answered survey questions. He said he had been homeless “going on five years,” and that he lost his last home because of family complications.

Martin said he had served in the Army, survived cancer and now has substance-abuse problems. Most days, he said, he stands on a corner with a sign asking for money. He had an old bicycle stashed behind some bushes. When the survey ended, he continued down the street, pushing the cart and the bike.

Just then, a car slowed to ask what the volunteers were doing. In the back seat, a tiny baby was buckled into a car seat. When Moe explained the count, the car’s 30-year-old passenger, Kymberlee Bogart, said she was homeless too.

Bogart said she is staying with her husband and infant daughter at the Interfaith Family Shelter, an Everett facility run by faith groups and other partners. Lack of rent money and “life” contributed to her homelessness, Bogart said.

During the 12 hours of the official count — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — brief stories of homelessness filled survey sheets compiled by dozens of volunteers spread out across the county.

Moe, 47, Grove, 52, and Rowland, a 20-year-old Everett Community College student, started at the Salvation Army in Everett.

Walking through central Everett, they gathered information about a disabled 33-year-old man who had stayed Wednesday night at the Everett Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter. A 24-year-old said he had been evicted from his place in Lake Stevens. A young woman carrying a stuffed toy said she was staying at a motel on North Broadway, thanks to a voucher.

Nate Marti, a human service specialist with Snohomish County, said Thursday’s staging areas for the count were Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood; Sultan River Park; Take the Next Step, a Monroe nonprofit; and the state Department of Social and Health Services office at Smokey Point.

Preliminary numbers will be released by Monday, but final totals will take more time, Marti said.

There were 1,996 individuals and 1,151 homeless “households” identified in last year’s count, which also found 757 homeless children younger than 18, and 99 homeless veterans.

People listed myriad causes of their homelessness in 2013. Job loss topped the list, with 42.5 percent saying unemployment was a critical issue.

“Homelessness is a very complex issue,” Marti said. “There’s not just one factor. It might be chemical dependency, mental health or a family break-up. Domestic violence is the number one cause of homelessness in families.”

Marti said that for the first time, the numbers of people living on the streets had declined from 2012 to 2013. “Rental assistance dollars have been geared specifically for people on the street. Hopefully that is making a difference,” he said.

Although she was volunteering, Moe knows what it’s like to be without a home.

“The Salvation Army has housed me and my husband the last three months,” she said. A transplant from Hawaii, she said her husband suffered a brain injury while working in north Snohomish County. The couple has been staying at an Everett motel, helped by housing vouchers, while they work through the process of getting disability benefits, Moe said.

Mitchell Croy is a Salvation Army Corps sergeant-major in Everett, and the agency’s housing case manager. He said the count helps Moe and others like her. Motel vouchers provided by the Salvation Army are funded by Snohomish County and the Everett Housing Authority, and based on information from the count, he said.

Volunteers Thursday carried blankets, gloves, socks and snacks, which they handed out to people on the streets. As she gave away items, Moe told each person “good luck” or “have a good day.”

“We’re all three paychecks away from being homeless,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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