At the end of May, All Home completed the 2019 Count Us In report. The results of this most recent point-in-time estimate of homelessness tells us one very important message: Homelessness is an immediate crisis and solutions that are having impacts must be scaled to respond to the needs in our community.
On the night of the count, there were an estimated 11,199 individuals experiencing homelessness — sheltered and unsheltered — across King County. This count reflects an 8 percent decrease overall and a 17 percent decrease specifically in unsheltered homelessness when compared with 2018 data. The reactions to these results have been mixed, from encouragement, to curiosity and doubt. I share all of these sentiments.
I am encouraged to see trends in reducing homelessness among families, veterans and youth under the age of 18. This is the fourth year in a row that family homelessness estimates declined in the point-in-time count, an overall reduction of 20 percent since 2015. Veteran and youth homelessness have seen declines for the past two years in a row, a promising 38 percent decline among veterans and a significant 63 percent decrease among youth since 2017.
We should be encouraged by these trends, and most important, we should learn from them to better understand what is working and how we can apply that to other populations.
The common elements in our region’s response to the needs of families, veterans and youth are strong community partnership and collaboration, a rigorous focus on data to drive policy, and targeted and increased investments. When all of these components are applied, we can achieve success.
I am curious to understand how our point-in-time count data compares to the data we capture year-round in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the database that captures data on the services provided to people experiencing homelessness. No one data source is able to fully enumerate the scope and scale of homelessness in our region. The count is a snapshot of one night, including estimates of people living unsheltered who may not be connected to services, while HMIS captures information about people who are accessing services within our homeless system.
In May, we launched new public data dashboards that provide a more in-depth understanding of the demand for resources through HMIS and the capacity of our homeless response system to meet that demand. The data shows that more people in our community are connected to homeless services and supports, as reflected in the sheltered numbers for Count Us In 2019 (3 percent increase since 2018) as well as the homeless system response.
In addition, we continue to see an increase in permanent housing placements through our system, with nearly 18,000 placements over the past three years. Aside from this expanded and accelerated response, there continues to be a gap between the demand for services and the resources available to support that demand.
Like so many others in our community, I feel doubt and concern as I see the persistent visual reminders that far too many of our neighbors are without a permanent place to be each night, in tents, in makeshift structures and under doorways in all parts of our county. We know for certain that our data has limitations and any count methodology leads to an undercount, and yet we can recognize that where we have seen strong collaboration, increased resources and decisions driven by data, we have seen progress.
The questions, concern and curiosity that followed the release of this year’s Count Us In report are evidence that our community stands fully committed to comprehensive and scaled solutions that ensure that our work does not end until all people have a safe and stable place to call home.
Kira Zylstra is acting director of All Home, an organization that leads the King County continuum of care by bringing together local governments, religious institutions, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, shelter and housing providers, the private sector and engaged citizens in a coordinated effort that both responds to the immediate crisis of homeless individuals and addresses the root causes of the problem in our region.
Read the full June 12 - 18 issue.
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