Liz Skinner of Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County speaks with a man outside the Silver Lake Fred Meyer while conducting a point-in-time count Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Everett, Washington. PIT count volunteers scattered across the county to locate and survey unhoused people and collect data on the community. People in need were provided with some food and warming kits regardless of their participation in the count. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Liz Skinner of Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County speaks with a man outside the Silver Lake Fred Meyer while conducting a point-in-time count Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Everett, Washington. PIT count volunteers scattered across the county to locate and survey unhoused people and collect data on the community. People in need were provided with some food and warming kits regardless of their participation in the count. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

As homelessness trends up, ‘it’s really important to hear their stories’

Volunteers set out to conduct the annual point-in-time count Tuesday around Snohomish County. Last year saw the highest census since 2012.

EVERETT — David Goodman squeezed out a wet cotton glove in the Silver Lake neighborhood Tuesday morning, as he stood beside a tarp-covered shopping cart holding his belongings.

Goodman, 39, has two jobs. He picks up shifts at a local fast food restaurant and a grocery store. It’s been about three years since he’s had a permanent place to live, he said, as members of Snohomish County’s crew conducted the point-in-time count, an annual census of the unhoused population.

Last year, almost 250 volunteers, county staffers and staff at partnering agencies worked to count the population, finding 1,285 people in 1,028 households were homeless in Snohomish County, an increase of 101 residents, 8.5%, from 2022. It was the highest total since 2012.

Apartments are expensive, Goodman said. Not to mention landlords want a recent rental history, which Goodman doesn’t have. And many unhoused people, he said, simply do not trust the system.

“Things are kind of set against us,” Goodman said.

Liz Skinner and Emma Titterness, both with Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, were the two volunteers surveying Goodman. The survey is digital this year, through an app on the volunteers’ phones, a technological update from the paper versions of past years.

Point-in-time volunteers ask basic information.

When did you last have stable housing? Any medical issues? Are you employed?

Respondents are only catalogued by their initials to protect privacy.

Emma Titterness and Liz Skinner walk around Thornton A. Sullivan Park at Silver Lake while searching for people to interview for a point-in-time count Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Emma Titterness and Liz Skinner walk around Thornton A. Sullivan Park at Silver Lake while searching for people to interview for a point-in-time count Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Skinner and Titterness believe in their mission. Skinner has done the count before. This was the first year for Titterness.

“People tend to generalize why people are in these situations,” Skinner said. “I think it’s really important to hear their stories, even if it’s just data on a sheet. We’re getting to hear the stories and see what’s going on in our own community.”

The new count is expected to be released later this year. Last year’s count was released in early May.

People must complete surveys in order to be counted, meaning the census is likely undercounting the population. The count divides the county into quadrants:

• North: Marysville, Stanwood, Granite Falls;

• East: Monroe, Snohomish, Lake Stevens;

• Central: Everett, Mukilteo;

• South: Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace.

The data is used when applying for state and federal funding.

“This definitely provides some understanding and identification of, you know, what we’re dealing with and how we can adjust to get the funding that we need and then get the actual data within the situation,” said Mohamed Bughrara, a spokesperson for the Snohomish County Human Services Department. “This is a good start, but like in the future, as we grow, hopefully, and get more data, hopefully we get the proper funding and proper methodologies to combat homelessness.”

New city policies have aimed to push unhoused people from Everett’s downtown core. A controversial expansion of the “no sit, no lie” zones now includes about 68 acres of north downtown. It also includes another, larger zone of about 300 acres surrounding the Fred Meyer in south Everett. The original 2021 ordinance targeted unhoused people around Everett Gospel Mission.

Giving food, water or other supplies is prohibited in those zones without a permit. The penalty for sitting and sleeping in the zones, or giving out supplies, is up to 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.

At least two people have faced misdemeanor charges for a violation since the original zone was created in 2021. As of last summer, Everett Public Works had issued two right-of-way permits to deliver supplies.

City officials have said the focus has been on education, not enforcement.

Liz Skinner, right, and Emma Titterness, both from Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, speak with a man near the Silver Lake Safeway while conducting a point-in-time count Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Everett, Washington. The man, who had slept at that location the previous night, was provided some food and a warming kit after participating in the PIT survey. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Liz Skinner, right, and Emma Titterness, both from Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, speak with a man near the Silver Lake Safeway while conducting a point-in-time count Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Everett, Washington. The man, who had slept at that location the previous night, was provided some food and a warming kit after participating in the PIT survey. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Arrests for public drug use — a crime that advocates say disproportionately targets people without housing — have risen dramatically in the past year, however.

Goodman said he has been approached by police officers who have told him about resources and “kind of hinted” at where shelters were, but he said he’s never stayed in one.

“I’m just kind of a simple person,” Goodman said. “And I’ve just never been.”

Family homelessness is also on the rise. In 2022, Everett Public Schools identified 1,497 homeless students. A decade ago, that number was 843. Last year’s point-in-time count found a 14% increase in homeless families with children countywide.

Keeping families who face homelessness together can be difficult. It often involves navigating a large number of services.

Rents are rising and many have been affected by the sunset of a pandemic-era eviction moratorium.

Everett has spent millions of dollars on temporary housing, including Pallet shelters at Faith Lutheran Church. There is also a Pallet shelter at Glenwood Avenue and Sievers Duecy Boulevard in the works.

Elsewhere, Snohomish County is repurposing former hotels in Everett and Edmonds into emergency housing as well.

A Community Health Assessment report by the county Health Department over the summer put a light on a myriad of issues. One major issue was drug use. Opioid deaths are on the rise, with at least 297 people dying from overdoses last year in Snohomish County, a 4.2% increase from 2022.

“Everything goes through rehab, the rehab center gives you a three-month benefit, but, you know, the people who are still using are the ones who aren’t ready (for housing),” Goodman said. “They’re not going to be very optimistic about anything after the fact, especially something like three months. It leaves them automatically doubting themselves and saying, ‘What’s the point in going? I’m just wasting time, I’m already spinning my wheels out here.’”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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