EVERETT — Slogging through bushes and mud, volunteers with Snohomish County’s annual Point-In-Time homeless count followed two Everett police officers Tuesday. They walked along the Snohomish River, past piles of trash, makeshift shelters and other signs of life on the margins.
A man in a black jacket and cap stood near a bicycle and a raggedy tent. He was wary as he answered survey questions posed by Gretchen Holtz, a count volunteer who works for Compass Health. With morning temperatures near freezing, the man pointed to the tent near the river. It’s where he stays, he said.
Responding to one question, he said, “When was the last time anybody had a permanent address?”
The Snohomish County Human Services Department, along with social service agencies and volunteers, conducts the Point-In-Time count for one day each January. Results help show the scope of homelessness in the county and aid in program planning. The annual data also is key for acquiring state and national funding.
From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, volunteers from sites in Everett and in east, north and south county gathered information about people staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets and in other places not fit for habitation.
During the 2016 count, 1,118 people were surveyed. Of those, 471 reported being unsheltered. Another 489 were without permanent places to stay, and were in emergency shelters or transitional housing. The 2016 count found 58 military veterans. And those counted last year ranged in age from 44 days to 91 years old.
On Tuesday, Everett Police Officers Mike Bernardi and Inci Yarkut led the way for Holtz and Autumn Manning. Both volunteers were from Compass Health’s PATH program (Project for Assistance in the Transition from Homelessness).
Also with the group was Kaitlyn Dowd, one of two social workers embedded with the police department’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Team. Through that effort, people have been helped to access housing and get treatment for addiction.
The officers stopped at several homeless encampments, including a site they call “the pit.” It’s under the roadway in the 3800 block of Third Avenue South, not far from the Everett Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter. At the bottom of a steep and muddy path, graffiti fills the concrete walls. The ground is covered with discarded clothing and garbage.
Outside the shelter, volunteers surveyed men lying and sitting on the sidewalk along Smith Avenue, while Bernardi greeted people by name. One of them, Lorri Baker, said she now stays at the Everett Gospel Mission Women &Children’s Shelter.
“I’ve been clean since July, no opiates,” said Baker, 34. “The last two to three years, I’ve lost 20 friends, all drug-related.”
Baker said she began using methamphetamine at 19, but had a seven-year clean period before turning to drugs again. “It is a daily fight,” she said.
At 41, Jeremiah Leathart is staying at the Everett men’s shelter. He disputes what he sees as a stereotype that all homeless people are addicts. “I don’t use drugs or alcohol,” said Leathart, a burly, bearded man who traced his yearlong experience with homelessness to a back injury, the loss of a son, and losing his house.
Among local organizations involved in Tuesday’s count were Cocoon House and Housing Hope. Homeless young people were surveyed at the Cocoon House U-Turn drop-in center on Broadway in Everett, said Julio Cortes, the agency’s public relations manager.
In Arlington, Housing Hope teamed up with the county and Lutheran Community Services Northwest. During the count, the groups offered a homeless resource fair at the Stillaguamish Senior Center. Sara Haner, Housing Hope events and marketing manager, said volunteers provided haircuts, medical and dental check-ups, and hot meals.
Near the Everett men’s shelter, 39-year-old Angela Masnica said she and her husband have been living in their car since a job loss and move from Eastern Washington. “We have to move all the time,” she said. “It’s hard trying to get a job. It’s a struggle.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.