In January, for the first time in 37 years, the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) will not coordinate the One Night Count, an annual event meant to capture the scope of homelessness in King County.
The count will instead fall to Applied Survey Research (ASR), a California-based firm that does similar work across the Golden State. At skcch’s behest, the name will change to Count Us In to signal the change in leadership.
The switch stemmed from a change in process at All Home King County, formerly the Committee to End Homelessness, which solicited bids from other organizations through a request for proposal (RFP) released in August. skcch has received money from the county without a competitive process to run the count for the past 11 years.
All Home awarded a three-year contract to ASR and SKCCH to jointly run the count, but the local organization dropped out in order to direct its resources to other efforts. That means the remainder of the work will fall to ASR, said Mark Putnam, director of All Home.
“We’ll have a high standard to meet to make sure volunteers come out and we’re raising awareness,” Putnam said.
Alison Eisinger, director of SKCCH, put out an email on Nov. 21 saying that the organization would serve in an advisory capacity.
Under the terms of the RFP, SKCCH would have brought in and trained volunteers to go out in the wee hours of the morning to count visibly homeless people and canvas shelters to get a count of those spending the night inside. A separate but parallel process run by All Home, also called Count Us In, offers extra services to homeless youth at some youth shelters in order to tempt them inside to get a point-in-time census.
ASR would conduct surveys of people experiencing homelessness and complete the report on the results.
The challenge for the company now will be to try to tap into volunteer networks in King County. SKCCH has a number of core volunteers that show up for the count most years. The work has been so popular that newcomers had to get on a waiting list. The organization didn’t call on its volunteers to continue, saying “we’re not asking you to show up for the One Night Count in January” before mentioning at the end that All Home would be conducting the new version of the count.
The 2017 count will be conducted differently than it would have under SKCCH.
In the past, teams scoured largely urban areas looking for people sleeping out in the open or in cars and tents. They recorded each individual found and some qualitative observations before moving on. Volunteers were instructed to count cars and tents as two people.
ASR intends to send its teams farther afield, going through each of King County’s 398 census tracts. Teams will also include a guide who is formerly homeless to help with the search. The guides will be paid $15 an hour for their work.
Groups in urban areas will continue doing their work by foot, while those sent to rural sections of the county will likely travel by car.
All Home is also looking at a better way to capture family homelessness. Data in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) shows nearly 500 families in Seattle every night, according to the Pathways Home report, which spells out Seattle’s new effort to combat street homelessness.
Not all of those families are reflected in other surveys, Putnam said.
There is also talk of doing a rolling approach, having teams start at different times in order to catch different populations.
The changes in methodology mean that the data from the 2017 Count Us In will be difficult, if not impossible, to accurately compare to previous One Night Counts. A similar situation occurred in 2006 when skcch’s methodology changed from the previous year.
People will also have to be prepared in case the new tract-by-tract approach that ASR will take results in a larger increase than usual, Putnam said.
Although the number of homeless people has gone down nationwide, King County recorded double-digit increases in the previous two years of 21 percent and 19 percent, respectively.