Catholic Community Services NW Director of Housing Services and Everett Family Center Director Rita Jo Case, right, speaks to Jason Browning, left, during a point-in-time count of people facing homelessness in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Browning sometimes stays along Casino Road and tries to help clean up after others in the area. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Catholic Community Services NW Director of Housing Services and Everett Family Center Director Rita Jo Case, right, speaks to Jason Browning, left, during a point-in-time count of people facing homelessness in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Browning sometimes stays along Casino Road and tries to help clean up after others in the area. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Homelessness down nearly 10% in Snohomish County, annual count shows

The county identified 1,161 people without permanent housing, down from 1,285 last year. But lack of resources is still a problem, advocates said.

EVERETT — George Beard woke up last Wednesday in his 2004 Pontiac Trans Am parked in the Stanwood Public Library parking lot — just as he had for the past year.

But on this day, he saw something new: two “NO OVERNIGHT PARKING” signs. It was time to move.

Beard, 61, is one of more than a thousand people without permanent housing in Snohomish County. On Monday, the county’s human services department reported 1,161 people were unhoused, staying in shelters or living in temporary housing on the night of Jan. 22. Overall, the annual count was down 9.6% — or about 124 people — from last year. In late January 2023, the county surveyed 1,285 people, its highest unhoused population count since 2012.

An overwhelming majority of the homeless population sleeps in Everett, the county’s largest city and a hub for housing resources.

“Being on the streets has really opened my eyes,” Beard said. “I carry food to give to others. A lot of us have no one to fall back on.”

On Jan. 22, volunteers counted 625 people, including 16 households with children, living without any shelter. That night, 536 people were staying in emergency shelter or transitional housing, a 9.8% decrease from 2023. The number of “households,” as the county calls them, of unhoused children living without adults increased from 12 to 20.

The counts released Monday come from the county’s point-in-time count, an annual survey of people experiencing homelessness on a single night.

“Recent investments have significantly expanded our community’s ability to provide timely, effective supportive services and affordable housing solutions,” County Executive Dave Somers said in a press release. “This year’s count affirms our commitment to addressing homelessness comprehensively and emphasizes the need for sustained investment and close collaboration in the coming years.”

Lori Morgan, a resource navigator serving Stanwood, Arlington and Marysville, said many of the families she works with can’t keep up with rising rent and food costs. These families usually sleep in vehicles or other makeshift beds out of the public eye to avoid shame, she said.

“These are people you see at the grocery store, people with kids who go to school with your kids,” Morgan said last week. “There’s still a lot of stigma around homelessness.”

Still, white men aged 35 to 44 are most likely to be unhoused in Snohomish County, according to the count. But the percentage of unhoused people 65 and older, and people of color, has increased.

Meanwhile, homelessness among unhoused women, as well as children and young adults under age 25, has decreased.

The county attributed part of the overall improvement to its use of federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act, HOME American Rescue Plan and Chemical Dependency and Mental Health Sales Tax funds. Officials also cited growing partnerships with the police, social service workers and other local agencies as other factors.

The county has also invested millions in new low-barrier housing complexes, including two “New Start Centers” set to open next year with a total of 150 units. Expanding inpatient behavioral health options and launching a Mobile Opioid Treatment program should also help, Mohamed Bughrara, a spokesperson for the county’s human services department, said in an email.

“Even though we are in the process of expanding available housing and support services, there still is not enough for everyone in need,” Bughrara said. “We know there is greater demand for services in the community, and we are always working to expand these programs to help our neighbors in need.”

This year, about 5% more households used the county’s Coordinated Entry system to find housing, and 7% more families with children used the service. The best way to connect with Coordinated Entry and other low-income resources is to call 211, Bughrara said.

In the nine years Morgan has been a navigator in the county, affordable and low-barrier housing has always been a problem, she said. But while the number of people on the streets may have declined since last year, fewer housing resources are available.

“We haven’t had the openings we normally have since COVID messed things up,” she said. “There are very few spots.”

For the few housing complexes that aren’t already at capacity with a waitlist, spots are often reserved for those deemed most vulnerable.

But who qualifies as vulnerable? And why? It’s an ever-evolving conversation, Morgan said.

The annual count is imperfect, as it heavily relies on self-reported data as well as volunteers’ access to unhoused people. But it’s a state and federal requirement, used to inform government funding priorities. The Snohomish County Partnership to End Homelessness also uses the count to find cracks in resource accessibility and outreach efforts.

Meanwhile, Beard could wait years for permanent housing. He’s still recovering from blood clots from sleeping in his car and frostbite from the colder months.

“I don’t know if I can make it another winter,” he said.

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430; sydney.jackson@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

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