Michael Jensen (left) and Nathan Jensen (right) at their encampment near Silver Lake in Everett in 2019. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Michael Jensen (left) and Nathan Jensen (right) at their encampment near Silver Lake in Everett in 2019. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Annual homeless count could shed light on pandemic’s impact

Snohomish County canceled its 2021 point-in-time count. Officials hope this year’s will bring clarity.

EVERETT — Officials will hold a formal count of Snohomish County’s homeless population Feb. 22, after the pandemic hampered the annual event last year.

The point-in-time count is an imperfect but important tool in tracking the local homeless population, its demographics and its needs. County and city officials use the data to apply for funding and to determine what projects can most help combat homelessness.

Last year was the county’s first chance to see how a raging pandemic affected the count. But safety concerns around COVID-19 meant half of the event was canceled.

“Here we are in the middle of COVID, and there’s a lot of discussion about what’s happening: Are the numbers increasing? Are the numbers decreasing?” said MJ Brell Vujovic, who directs the county’s Department of Human Services. “The truth is, without count numbers, we really aren’t in a position to say, other than anecdotally.”

In recent discussions around the county’s efforts to convert an Everett hotel and use a new sales tax to increase emergency shelter, officials said they suspected the pandemic pushed more residents into homelessness.

Last year, the half-count covered people staying in shelters and accessing services, but volunteers didn’t fan out around the county to tally and interview those sleeping on the streets, in cars or in forested camps.

“It’s obviously not the same thing as having the full count,” said Holly Shelton, a county supervisor who helps organize the event.

With shelters often at capacity, Vujovic said, data collected on the streets can be more valuable. It illustrates the county’s “overflow” population — those turned away from shelters due to capacity limits or behavioral issues, along with people who may not be comfortable staying in shelters.

Even in freezing temperatures, much of the county’s homeless population sleeps in tents and cars, not shelters.

The count notes each person’s gender, race, veteran status, where they slept the night before and if they’re struggling with physical or mental illnesses, including substance use disorder. School districts help in counting homeless youth, and some nonprofits hold so-called “magnet events,” offering hot meals or laundry service to help congregate those who need to be counted. In days following the one-night count, people are tallied through homeless services and organizations.

Weather, volunteer availability and a host of other factors can influence total numbers year to year.

“It’s humans counting humans,” Shelton said. “We’re all experiencing life, and we just kind of have to account for the fact that it’s not going to be perfect.”

For example, counting young people has been a consistent challenge, Vujovic said.

“I think a lot of youth are concerned about being counted, and potential long-term implications in their lives,” she said.

Vujovic said it’s helpful to look at long-term trends rather than individual count numbers.

“If there’s anything that’s a very consistent picture, it’s that increasingly the people who are on the streets are chronically homeless and have multiple challenges,” she said. “Either mental health, substance use disorder, or chronic physical health (issues). Two of the three, or all three.”

It’s an increasingly complex population, she said, and that points to a need for housing paired with “wrap-around” services.

Housing and Community Services manager Jackie Anderson echoed the sentiment, saying mental and physical health services built into new capital projects “is critical for these folks.”

“They need that,” she said. “At least for some period of time, they do.”

Even with a federally granted extension, officials say COVID could still be a limiting factor.

Shelton said she suspects magnet events may be canceled to avoid getting people sick. Normally, hundreds of volunteers are coached to conduct interviews for the count. But with COVID safety concerns, the hope is to lean more on law enforcement, embedded social workers and first responders to do that work.

Members of the public have been asking Shelton if they can volunteer. But so far, COVID has made her hesitant.

“It’s really hard to think we’d say no to that,” she said.

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Marysville
1 pedestrian dead after car crash on I-5 south of Marysville

Around 5 p.m., a car crashed into a pedestrian along I-5. Investigators believed a man had parked on the shoulder to refuel.

FILE - A person walks near the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington's redistricting commission failed to meet its deadline and on Tuesday, Nov. 16, kicked the job of creating new political maps to the state Supreme Court. The bipartisan commission had a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Do Snohomish County lawmakers want a 2020 presidential rematch?

The Herald contacted seven Republican legislators representing parts of Snohomish County about their primary choice. Five did not respond.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Photo provided by 
Economic Alliance
Economic Alliance presented one of the Washington Rising Stem Awards to Katie Larios, a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School.
Mountlake Terrace High School senior wins state STEM award

Katie Larios was honored at an Economic Alliance gathering: “A champion for other young women of color in STEM.”

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Firefighters respond to a report of a smoke alarm going off in the 100 block of West Main Street in Monroe on Monday morning. Fire officials confirmed the fire was coming from living quarters above Good Brewing Co. (Provided by Snohomish County Regional Fire and Rescue).
Fire damages apartment above Monroe brewery

Good Brewing Co. on West Main Street was listed as permanently closed Monday.

Tom Ceurvorst picks up his food order at Big Chicken on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free ice cream Wednesday for Shaq’s birthday at Big Chicken in Mukilteo

Sign a card for the NBA Hall of Famer and restaurant founder. Shaquille O’Neal turns 52 on March 6.

Flowers for slain trooper Chris Gadd begin to collect outside Washington State Patrol District 7 Headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Police: Lynnwood man consumed cannabis, beer before crash into trooper

Trooper Chris Gadd, 27, was stopped along I-5 when he was hit and killed early Saturday. Troopers suspect Raul Benitez Santana was impaired.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.