EVERETT — Snohomish County’s homeless population is at a 10-year high, according to data released Monday.
The numbers come from this year’s point-in-time count, when officials and volunteers trekked across the county interviewing those living on the streets, in shelters or in transitional housing.
Monday’s data is the county’s first broad assessment of homelessness since the start of the pandemic, because COVID-19 hampered the count last year.
At the Feb. 22 event, Aaron King of Catholic Community Services was assigned to downtown Everett. Clipboard in hand, he scanned the streets for people to talk to. But it was difficult to find anyone.
He speculated that the city’s “no-sit no-lie” ordinance had scattered people across the city. The law targeted homeless people in a 10-block stretch downtown where many used to congregate.
“I know they’re around,” he told The Daily Herald that day, “because our case loads have been steadily increasing since then.”
Weeks later, the data confirmed King’s suspicions: Homelessness got worse here during the pandemic.
That’s “despite increased efficiencies and investments across the system which continue to assist more households each year,” a news release from the county said on Monday.
The new data offers a glimpse into changing demographics.
More families were experiencing sheltered homelessness than in 2020, and more of those families were experiencing chronic homelessness.
In total, 1,184 people were counted. That’s a 42.8% increase from the county’s low point in 2015 and an increase of 52 people since the count in 2020. The number of people living outside shelters decreased by 13.2% from 2020. Meanwhile, shelters saw a 30.7% increase in clients. At 600 people, that figure was the highest it has been since 2013. According to the county, that’s due to an increase in shelter capacity, including cold weather shelters that were open the night of this year’s count.
During the pandemic, the county launched new initiatives to bolster housing, including a plan to convert an Everett hotel into a shelter, a new sales tax and relaxed zoning restrictions to encourage “missing middle” housing. But without a point-in-time count that year, human services director MJ Brell Vujovic told The Daily Herald, the county’s understanding of how homelessness was changing was largely anecdotal.
This year, the percentage of people counted who were Black decreased from 11.2% in 2020 to 6.4%. There was a slight uptick in Hispanic and Latino respondents, as well as people who were transgender or who identified not solely as a man or woman.
Organizations that offer food and other services to houseless people also help count people in the days after the official count. Still, the point-in-time process is an imperfect one that inevitably misses people.
During the count, Mandy Jeffcott knocked on shelters of plywood and tarps under I-5. Jeffcott works as a community services counselor for the county.
“Morning. Anyone in there?” she asked.
After no response, she moved on.
“I’m not going to be the one to shake their tent,” Jeffcott said.
Some people decline to talk to counters. Others described trouble getting into shelters during a historic cold snap weeks earlier.
Felicia Rodriguez, 49, slept in her car at Lowell Park the night before. She told Jeffcott she wasn’t comfortable sleeping in a shelter so close to strangers.
But when temperatures dropped dangerously low, she scrambled to get a bed. She was unsuccessful.
“I was crying and everything,” Rodriguez told counters. “Seems like you can’t get no help from anyone around here.”
Jeffcott spoke with a man on Broadway who didn’t know about the cold weather shelters at all.
“There are far too many members of our community who have no home and are traumatized daily by their lack of shelter,” Vujovic said in the news release Monday. “We are committed to doing all we can to relieve suffering and help our neighbors transition to a more stable and sustainable life.”