Rather than looking only in areas where people without homes have been known to spend the night, Count Us In teams will scour every census tract in King County in late January.
The Seattle region’s annual One Night Count of people who are homeless has been renamed Count Us In and will be carried out differently in 2017. A more thorough tally could result in a much higher total, officials say.
Rather than looking only in areas where people without homes have been known to spend the night, as teams have in past years, Count Us In teams will scour every census tract in King County.
In addition to volunteers, the teams will include guides familiar with each area — people who are now or formerly homeless. They’ll be paid $15 per hour.
New data-collection tools and surveys may be introduced, and some counting may be done during daylight hours rather than only during the dead of night.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities around the country to conduct annual counts, in part, to track homeless numbers each year.
The changes announced this week by All Home, the agency that coordinates homeless services across King County, mean next year’s total won’t be directly comparable to previous totals. Mark Putnam, All Home’s director, hopes the new approach will be more accurate.
“The numbers could potentially be higher,” Putnam said. “We do expect to find some people we wouldn’t have found through the other methodology.”
Past counts have covered under 20 cities, recently adding Vashon Island and parts of Southwest King County. In 2017, Count Us In teams will visit all 39 cities in King County, Putnam says.
“We know that smaller cities like Black Diamond and Maple Valley are seeing people experiencing homelessness by freeways and in the woods,” he said.
Some wilderness and rural stretches will be left out, Putnam says.
Another change for the 2017 count will be a different nonprofit organizer. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) declined to take part this time after leading the effort for almost 40 years.
All Home will work with California-based Applied Survey Research (ASR), which has carried out more than 50 point-in-time counts for other communities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In a message to volunteers, executive director Alison Eisinger said the nonprofit helped launch the One Night Count long before HUD made counts a requirement.
She said the goal has been “to document the realities of homelessness and to engage our whole community in understanding and taking action.”
But SKCCH now needs to concentrate on advocacy work, Eisinger said.
“In recent years, federal rules governing (point-in-time) counts have narrowed and local priorities have shifted. For three years in a row, we have seen double-digit (percentage) increases in the numbers of people without shelter,” she said.
“Our coalition’s voice is urgently needed to secure resources for more shelter, services and housing and to speak up for and protect people who are homeless.”
Putnam says All Home wanted to work with both SKCCH and ASR after both nonprofits responded to a request for proposals. He says SKCCH’s bowing out means All Home staff members are “rolling up our sleeves” to manage the effort.
For this year’s One Night Count, carried out between 2 and 5 a.m. on Jan. 29, more than 1,100 volunteers walked darkened streets looking for people holed up in cars, tents, doorways and under bridges.
The same night, people running shelters and transitional-housing sites collected data about their guests.
Together, 10,688 people were tallied — 4,505 of them without shelter, a 19 percent increase over 2015. Nearly 3,000 of the people without shelter were counted in Seattle.
Putnam says Count Us In teams may approach people living in vehicles during waking-up hours rather than at night. In the past, teams have recorded tents and vehicles with an unknown number of people inside as holding two people each.
No matter how and where they happen, counts are estimates. The real numbers of people without shelter are likely much higher, Putnam says.
More information on Count Us In and how to volunteer can be found at All Home’s website, allhomekc.org.