Annual count is also a way to offer services to the homeless

EVERETT — In drenching rain, volunteers set out Thursday with clipboards and questions. Across Snohomish County, they visited shelters and parking lots, walked down alleys, and took to the streets in search of people without homes.

They were seeking more than a tally of homeless people on a single day in late January. As helpers with the Snohomish County 2016 Point in Time count, they carried surveys asking about circumstances that caused people to be without permanent places to stay. There were questions about domestic violence, job loss, drug use, military service and more.

“Where did you stay last night?” was only the first thing asked during the 12-hour count, conducted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday from sites in Everett, Lynnwood, Arlington and east Snohomish County.

The count is required for communities getting state and federal money for programs to alleviate homelessness. Last year, there were 966 people found to be without stable housing. That was down from 1,272 in 2014, and 1,966 in 2013. Preliminary results of this year’s count weren’t available Thursday.

“Everyone you meet is a priority,” Robert Lohry told volunteers gathered at the Salvation Army in Everett, one of four staging centers for the count. Lohry, a Catholic Community Services employee who oversees a veterans housing program, asked volunteers to make sure any veterans they encountered were given a packet of information about benefits.

Chelaina Crews, a navigator with Catholic Community Services, told volunteers that young people they met could find help through Everett’s Cocoon House.

With Thursday morning’s downpour, volunteers found few homeless people on the streets. Ashley Camacho, 24, took shelter inside Everett’s United Church of Christ. Offering only the briefest answers, Camacho said she had slept outside after recently getting out of jail.

Volunteers Irene Slagle and Dani Wentz, both employees of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, surveyed several people in the church conference room. A different church, Our Common Table, now runs a program at the United Church of Christ on Rockefeller Avenue called Our Common Ground. Open since November, it offers anyone a warm place to go from 8 a.m. to noon, Mondays through Thursdays.

Sitting in a corner at the church was John Taylor, a 50-year-old who hopes to get into housing. “They should actually build a facility where people can go, instead of spending money to run people off,” Taylor said.

Officer Mike Bernardi, of the Everett Police Department, accompanied volunteers to a haven for homeless people just north of the Everett Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter. Sheltered by an overpass, one man sat in a folding chair along Smith Avenue smoking a cigarette. Others answered the survey for volunteer Muriel Reiner, a housing case manager with Catholic Community Services.

Everett Police Sgt. Michael Braley said he attended a planning meeting with count organizers and agreed to assist volunteers. “Our crews are working so much with the homeless population on outreach efforts,” he said.

Also working near the men’s shelter was Lauren Rainbow. A social worker with the Snohomish County Human Services Department, Rainbow is part of a program that has her teamed up with the Everett police. Another social worker, Jesse Calliham, is embedded with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

“We both have had huge successes. I have gotten housing for someone who was chronically homeless,” Rainbow said. She said several people have been sent to intensive drug treatment through scholarships offered by treatment centers.

Since Everett’s Community Streets Initiative task force helped heighten the focus on homelessness in 2014, the city has taken many steps to address the issue. The Everett City Council recently approved an alcohol impact area to limit the sale of cheap, high-alcohol beverages in certain areas.

Everett is working to build or buy property for low-barrier supportive housing, a move being supported by county government.

Homelessness looks different in south Snohomish County, said Becca Lang. She is a lead family advocate with the YWCA in Lynnwood, which runs a shelter for women and children. Lang said the Point in Time count in south county was based at Lynnwood’s Good Shepherd Baptist Church.

“Everett has a lot more resources clumped together,” she said. “People really stay around the Broadway area and the Everett men’s mission. In south county, homeless people don’t have as many resources and are really spread out.” Churches that provide meals are gathering places, and Lang said there are several parking lots where people stay in cars.

The Good Shepherd Baptist Church, like other count centers, was providing food Thursday. “People can just relax and feel safe at least for a day,” Lang said.

At the Salvation Army, volunteer John Stejer said he took the day off from his job in Boeing’s metrology lab — “Lasers,” he said — to help with the count. With a home not far from Broadway in north Everett, Stejer said he sees people on the street all the time.

“It bothers me,” he said. “In a different culture, these people might not be homeless. They’re my neighbors.”

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

Learn more

Information about Snohomish County’s annual Point in Time count, including reports from previous years, is online at http://snohomishcountywa.gov/2857/Point-In-Time.

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