EVERETT — Homelessness in Snohomish County is on the rise, according to the 2019 Point-in-Time count summary released Tuesday.
In total, 1,116 people were counted in this year’s annual survey, a 30 percent increase over 2018. And that’s the highest number recorded since 2012, according to figures released by Snohomish County Human Services.
Of those counted this year, 517 were staying in an emergency shelter or transitional housing. The other 599 were unsheltered — sleeping in abandoned buildings, vehicles or on the street.
The county is helping more people find shelter, but the population of those experiencing homelessness continues to grow, said Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, the county’s director of human services.
On Jan. 23, hundreds of volunteers fanned out across the county for the annual survey of homelessness in the county. Encampments, food banks, community meals along with areas where people experiencing homeless are known to be are targeted in the count.
The overall increase in homelessness documented in the 2019 count matches a rise in the number of individuals and families seeking and receiving housing services in the county, according to a summary released by the county.
The number of unsheltered people rose 92 percent since 2015. And in just the last year, the percentage of unsheltered young adults, ages 18–24, increased 4.5 percent, while the number of children under 18 jumped 111 percent.
The county attributed a significant portion of the increase in the number of unsheltered people, particularly families, to a change in how the survey was done this year. The count relies on volunteers identifying and interviewing people experiencing homelessness, which the county says is “prone to undercounting.”
On the day of the count this year, service providers reached out to families and individuals enrolled in the county’s coordinated entry system to complete surveys. Surveyors collect initials and birthdays to prevent counting people twice.
“We know that resulted in different people counted,” said Jesse Jorstad, the lead data analyst for the human services department. “Families are much more difficult to locate during a street count.”
In 2019, 28 unsheltered families were counted, compared to eight families documented in last year’s count. Family homelessness tends to be less visible, Jorstad said.
The county says increased investments in programs moved 37 percent more households into some sort of permanent housing in 2018 compared to 2015. This could include market-rate units, housing vouchers or moving in with family. By the end of 2019, 142 more permanent housing units are expected to be available, though still not enough, Brell Vujovic said.
“Are we moving the needle … yes, at the rate we would like to see it move — no,” she said.
Andrea Reedy, a Salvation Army pastor, said the Carnegie Resource Center that opened downtown at the beginning of the year is helping connect people with services, though the need for housing help is still high.
The Salvation Army in Everett runs an emergency shelter when nighttime temperatures dip below freezing. During the winter calls tick up, then slow as the weather warms, she said, but this year demand hasn’t eased up.