YAKIMA — Although the results of Yakima County’s 10th annual homeless survey won’t be available for several weeks, organizers say the event has become a milestone for local advocacy that has led to a sharp drop in area homelessness.
“We’ve learned addressing homelessness takes a collaborative approach,” including governments and nonprofits, Yakima County homeless and housing programs manager Tim Sullivan said. “If we didn’t have everyone involved, we wouldn’t have the success we’ve been making.”
In related news, the Yakima City Council will become more engaged in the Yakima County Homeless Network, furthering a more collaborative relationship that was born of some tension.
The numbers make a compelling case: Since 2006, the number of homeless people counted in the annual Point-In-Time Survey has fallen by almost 30 percent, from 1,265 to 899 counted in 2013. Only 47 individuals were reportedly living without shelter in 2013, a drop of more than 80 percent since the 2006 survey.
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Sullivan said the ability to draw funds for housing, medical and other support services has also played a role in progress locally. Ten years ago, the Yakima County Homeless Network had a $250,000 annual budget for providing those services; now that amount hovers around $3.5 million, Sullivan said.
“We have more resources than we’ve ever had to help people address the issue,” he said.
The network has also made headway with the city of Yakima over the last year through what was at times a contentious relationship. Advocates for the homeless and city officials traded sharp criticisms publicly when the city threatened to prevent emergency winter shelters from opening because of fire code violation concerns. But they ultimately reached a compromise that allowed the shelters to open.
At Thursday’s Yakima City Council study session, it was announced that the city would be sending two council members, Kathy Coffey and Bill Lover, to every meeting of the Yakima County Homeless Network starting this year.
“We don’t currently have a committee for that,” City Manager Tony O’Rourke told council members. “It would be great if we could have two council members engaged in those meetings.”
The Yakima County Homeless Network is a joint effort between the county and a number of area nonprofits. The group’s current chairwoman is Erin Black, director of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Yakima.
The network and city are continuing to work toward a permanent location for a winter shelter for the homeless, but no details have been firmed up, O’Rourke said.