Catholic Community Services housing navigator Aaron King, right, talks with Kenny Marshall, 39, for the annual Point-in-Time Count on Thursday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Catholic Community Services housing navigator Aaron King, right, talks with Kenny Marshall, 39, for the annual Point-in-Time Count on Thursday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Homeless count strives for greater accuracy in annual census

Last year, Snohomish County recorded more homeless people than before, while using new methodology.

EVERETT — Kenny Marshall sat on a bed sheet in the dirt, below an overpass Thursday morning near the Everett waterfront.

He doesn’t usually stay there, he said, but he wanted to get out of the rain. He was surrounded by old tents and tarps. He was alone.

Around 10 a.m., he was greeted by two social workers and two police officers who climbed up the sandy slope to reach him. They wanted to ask him some questions for the annual Point-in-Time Count.

Hundreds of volunteers fan out around Snohomish County each January, to conduct a census of people who are homeless. This year’s count was held Thursday.

The volunteers ask a list of questions, including where people slept the night before, the last time they had housing and if they have any disabilities.

The information is confidential. The goal is to give an idea of homelessness in the county.

Marshall, 39, moved to Everett about five years ago from Austin, Texas.

“After both my daughters passed away I moved here,” he said. “On Christmas Day, my 5-year-old passed away, and three days later my 17-year-old passed away.”

He wanted a place to start over. He has been homeless nearly the entire time he’s lived here.

Marshall wants people to know not everyone experiencing homelessness is bad, and he wishes people were more kind on the street.

“We’re not all out here doing drugs and hurting people, we’re just in a bad situation,” he said.

Last year’s Point-in-Time Count found 1,116 people did not have a permanent home in Snohomish County. Of those, 406 were in emergency shelters, 111 were in transitional housing and 599 did not have shelter.

That number was higher than the previous year, by about 250 people. That’s because of instead of only counting people outside on one day, some took the survey while seeking social services on days around the big count, said Robin Hood, a program specialist for the Snohomish County Human Services Department.

“Our number looks bigger, but it’s more accurate,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”

Around sunrise Thursday, volunteers Amanda Jeffcott and Aaron King teamed up with Everett police officers Shane Nelson and Mike Bernardi.

Jeffcott works for Snohomish County, while King is with Catholic Community Services. Both are social workers who help people find housing.

They piled into an Everett Police Department SUV, first stopping on Smith Avenue near the Everett Gospel Mission.

Blankets hung on the fence. Crumpled soda cans and a bottle of ranch dressing littered the curb. Dozens of pigeons pecked at scraps on the sidewalk.

The entire block had been cleared the day before, Bernardi said.

Jeffcott and King asked questions for about 15 minutes. Then the group made their way toward I-5. Under the freeway, they found a young couple living in a six-person tent. The words “Bat Caves” were spray painted on a wall.

Bernardi called out and shined a flashlight toward the camp. A young man, 21, unzipped the tent and walked out barefoot in the dark, followed by a barefoot woman, 19.

They stood in front of the social workers, separated by a chainlink fence. Overhead the rumble of passing cars echoed in the shelter.

The couple planned to visit Cocoon House later that day. Jeffcott read questions from a script, and talked with the young woman in casual conversation. She said she was four months pregnant.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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