North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Point-in-Time count surveys homeless in Snohomish County

 

Christopher Andersson

Volunteers Knute Olsen, left, and Chris Dorsett walk near SR 530 to look for homeless individuals or families to survey on Jan. 24 as part of the annual Point-in-Time count which documents the amount of homeless individuals in the country.

The second annual North County Homeless Resource Fair was held on Jan. 24 as part of Snohomish County's annual Point-in-Time count.

The Point-in-Time (PIT) count serves as a national count of the homeless population to see how many individuals and families are homeless during one particular day.

The local fair was started last year.

"We had a resource fair with the idea of bringing the homeless in, getting services to them, and getting the volunteers and community involved," said Seanna Herring-Jensen, program manager of the Arlington Community Resource Center and one of the organizers of the event.

In 2015 the PIT count showed just nine homeless in the Arlington area.

"We had to throw out many of those surveys in 2015," said Ton Nguyen, who works for Workforce Snohomish and trained volunteers at this year's fair.

"If you don't have a lot of volunteers, you're not able to accurately count the homeless that are out there," said Herring-Jensen.

That number of nine seemed inaccurate, she said, but was also a problem simply because a low count makes it harder to argue for government or grant funds to the area.

With a concentrated volunteer effort last year more than 80 homeless individuals were counted, said Herring-Jensen, which was the highest count ever for the area.

The 2016 report also showed the state with more than 20,000 homeless individuals, which would rank fifth in the nation.

That count would mean the state has roughly 3.8 percent of the homeless in the nation despite only having 2.2 percent of the total population.

Herring-Jensen said this year's fair had less turnout but was still able to provide services like free hair cuts, toiletries and coats to homeless individuals.

She said fewer volunteers also came out, although added the day the PIT count landed on may have affected that.

"I've never really done this before," said volunteer Knute Olsen. "It sounded interesting and I really had no idea what I would be getting into," he said.

Olsen said he liked talking with people about their stories. "These guys are very nice guys," he said.

Volunteer Chris Dorsett said he hoped an accurate count lead to more services locally.

"I believe there's a big homeless problem in the area, significantly higher than 10, and I just want to help identify them and get them the help they need," he said.

Herring-Jensen said that many of the organizations that came together for last year's Homeless Resource Fair continued meeting last year to form the North County Homeless Coalition as well.

"We've pulled together and meet each month and try and get a handle of what's going on and some solutions for this side of the slough," she said.

About 16 agencies, including police departments from Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip and Lake Stevens, sit down and look for solutions, she said.

They've worked with Mt. Vernon to learn about the region's "Friendship House," and how to bring that sort of shelter and food program to the north Snohomish County region.

"They've taught us what they've done and what's worked and what hasn't worked," said Herring-Jensen.

The coalition has also looked at bringing a community court to the region, which they hope to get off the ground in the next three or four months.

"That's for folks who are ready for housing, but can't get it because of minor infractions like trespassing and now they have warrants out for their arrest. This is a court so that all can get resolved and they can get housing and employment," said Herring-Jensen.

Those are the types of programs that could be funded if numbers from the PIT count help show the region's need for homeless support, she said.

 

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