Annual Snapshot of Spokane County Homeless Population Reveals Overall Increase

Brian Walker, Communications Manager, 509.655.1387

Thursday, April 27, 2023 at 12:42 p.m.

(NOTE: This version contains an overall chronic homeless count sub-population number that was updated on 8/8/23 as a result of a standard data review check.)

The 2023 Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, conducted in compliance with federal funding requirements to provide an annual snapshot estimate of Spokane County’s homeless population on behalf of the regional Continuum of Care, revealed an increase overall from 2022.

A total of 2,390 people from 2,136 households were counted this year compared to the 1,757 people from 1,513 households counted in 2022. The count includes data from Spokane County, Spokane, Spokane Valley, Deer Park, Riverside, Cheney and other areas of the county.

PIT Count highlights were presented during today’s Spokane City Council Study Session.

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) considers the PIT Count to be as much of a community engagement opportunity to raise awareness about homelessness as a population estimate due to the activity’s counting limitations. This is just one of several data sets on the area’s homeless population that agencies rely on to develop and refine strategies to move people into permanent housing. The count relies on volunteers to canvas the county using a grid system.

This year there were 170 volunteer surveyors compared to 100 last year. Using HUD methodology, surveys for the sheltered population were conducted on Jan. 24, followed by the unsheltered population Jan. 25-29. 

In addition to partnering with shelters for the sheltered portion and using homeless encampment data to identify hot spots countywide for the unsheltered portion, the City partnered with the City of Spokane Valley, Spokane County, Eastern Washington University, homeless outreach event organizers in both Spokane and Spokane Valley and others to deploy surveyors to various areas of the county.

Homelessness remains a complex nationwide problem. The national PIT estimate of the homeless population has increased each of the past five years, according to HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress released in December. Between 2020 and 2022 the number of people experiencing homelessness increased in more states (27 including Washington) than it decreased (23). Homelessness in Washington state increased 10 percent overall from 2020 to 2022.

“Beyond the federal requirement, the Point-in-Time Count is an important tool used to inform the delivery of services and programs for people experiencing homelessness regionwide.” said Daniel Ramos III, Data System Administrator for the City of Spokane, which organized the countywide count.

“This year’s count couldn’t have been done without the community’s involvement and support.”

Spokane County’s overall population has also increased in recent years. The county’s estimated 2023 population is 559,775, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s an 18.8 percent increase from 471,221 in 2010.

Other PIT Count data highlights – all statistics are self-reported – included:

  • the sheltered population total was 1,435 (54 percent increase from 2022) and unsheltered population 955 (16 percent increase);
  • the overall chronic homeless count was 670 (19 percent increase);
  • the race breakdown included 1,783 white, 187 American Indian/Alaskan Native/Indigenous, 173 multiple races, 166 Black/African American/African, 60 Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 21 Asian or Asian American;
  • 129 total veterans, an increase from 111 last year;
  • 82 percent of those counted this year were 25 years of age or older;
  • 32 percent (or 704) of adults reported having a serious mental illness; and
  • 10 percent (or 218) of adults reported being a survivor of domestic violence.

The rise in the sheltered population is a reflection of an increase in beds to address the immediate need. From Feb. 24, 2022, to Jan. 24, 2023, the number of emergency shelter beds in the local system increased from 1,030 to 1,408, a 37 percent increase, according to the Housing Inventory Count that is held in conjunction with the PIT Count.

A lack of affordable housing was the top reason unsheltered individuals cited during the survey for being homeless, followed by a lack of a family/support network.

To increase affordable housing, the City recently approved more than $7 million in federal and local funds for nine projects that will create 89 new units, 59 conversions into new units and 62 rehabilitations. Last year $10 million for 11 projects that will support 381 units was approved in addition to the completion of the 47-unit Sinto Commons project.

The City’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department distributed $40 million in funding in 2022 from federal, state and local sources to subrecipients in the regional fight to reduce homelessness and tackle the housing crisis

In addition, the City expanded the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) designation area last year, making it the largest in the state, and adopted an interim ordinance allowing townhouses, duplexes, tri-plexes and four-plexes in all neighborhoods. To help keep residents housed, the City administered an emergency rent assistance program that distributed $35 million in COVID-relief funds to 7,000 households and two home repair programs.