EVERETT — An annual survey of homeless people in Snohomish County suggests a surge in families without shelter, a problem many advocates close to the streets have long suspected.
The Point in Time count found a 50 percent increase in some homeless populations.
Thursday’s one-day tally turned up 481 local people without shelter. That compares to 312 counted a year ago. The 54 percent increase was mostly tied to households without children. The number of unsheltered families with children, however, more than doubled to 35 from 16 last year.
The homelessness problem is hardly confined to Snohomish County. Gov. Jay Inslee sees larger economic forces at work pushing up the numbers throughout the state.
The governor traveled to Everett Monday to talk about combatting homelessness as part of a roundtable discussion with local leaders.
“A lot of the new homeless are economically homeless, I’m convinced, because the wages aren’t keeping up with rents,” Inslee said afterward.
“It’s not some sudden onslaught of mental health problems,” he said.
At the same time, Inslee acknowledged the state has had well-publicized difficulties in keeping up with demands on the mental health system. He sees promise in the Housing First initiative pioneered in Utah and underway now in Everett. That approach seeks to find low-barrier housing before treating a person’s problems with mental health or drug abuse.
Results from this year’s Point in Time count were released Monday by Snohomish County’s Human Services Department. That coincided with the roundtable discussion and a public forum that evening at Historic Everett Theatre.
Elected leaders in Everett and county government have described the homelessness problems as epidemic. They’ve been committing political capital and tax dollars.
Both Everett police and the Sheriff’s Office recently started embedding social workers with their officers.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson recently promised to line up permanent housing in the near future for five chronically homeless people, with another 15 to follow by the end of June. The city is starting a capital campaign to fund the construction of a dedicated facility for 60 homeless people.
Volunteers conducted Thursday’s annual homeless survey during heavy rains, searching in shelters and parking lots, alleys and streets. They asked about the circumstances that left people without a permanent home. They asked about domestic violence, job loss, drug use, military service and more.
The count spanned 12 hours at sites in Everett, Lynnwood, Arlington and east Snohomish County.
Organizers worried that weather may have made it harder to find people. Even so, preliminary numbers released by the county showed some dramatic increases.
County Executive Dave Somers stressed the need to form partnerships across political boundaries and to use approaches that have worked elsewhere.
“We must target resources effectively and ensure that any dollar spent is actually solving a problem,” Somers said in prepared remarks. “If it were just a question of enough money, then the problem would have gotten better in the last 30 years. But it hasn’t.”