Annual Snapshot Estimate of County's Homeless Population Reveals Overall Decrease

Erin Hut,

Monday, June 10, 2024 at 3:53 p.m.

The 2024 Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, conducted in compliance with federal funding requirements to provide an annual snapshot estimate of Spokane County’s homeless population, revealed a decrease overall from 2023. It is the first year-to-year decrease since 2016.

A total of 2,021 people were counted this year compared to the 2,390 in 2023 for a 15 percent decrease. 

The sheltered count increased from 1,435 to 1,578 (10 percent increase from 2023), while the unsheltered count decreased from 955 to 443 (54 percent decrease).

Using U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) methodology, surveys for the sheltered population were conducted on Jan. 22, 2024, followed by the unsheltered population Jan. 23-27. 

“This data will be among multiple sets of information used to help chart the course for a future regional and collaborative strategy aimed at helping individuals on their journey toward housing and stability,” said Reese McMullin, chair of the regional Continuum of Care that is required to conduct the count. “While it appears we see an overall decrease in this county’s homeless population, we recognize that this is just one estimate and there’s still so much work that needs to be done in collaboration with community-based organizations, behavioral health providers, and local government.”

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 to all stakeholder groups during today’s Spokane City Council Urban Experience Committee meeting.

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

  • the overall chronic homeless count was 536 (20 percent decrease from last year);
  • 121 total veterans, a decrease from 129 last year;
  • 80 percent of those counted this year were 25 years of age or older;
  • 49 percent (or 870) of adults reported having a serious mental illness; and
  • 9 percent (or 151) of adults reported being a survivor of domestic violence.

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.

Camp Hope along Interstate 90 was dissolved between the PIT Counts of January 2023 and January 2024 and is believed to be factor in this year’s overall decrease in population. A large homeless population was at that single location in January 2023, making it more accessible for the count than in January 2024 when many of those individuals had found housing. An increase in local housing units was likely another reason for the overall population decrease.

Both the increase in the sheltered population and decrease in the unsheltered population are a reflection of the Cannon Shelter temporarily re-opening in January 2024 during an emergency cold snap and an increase in emergency shelter beds to address the immediate need.

The number of emergency shelter beds increased from 1,242 in 2023 to 1,381 in 2024, according to the Housing Inventory Count that was held in conjunction with the PIT Count. The total number of beds for all housing types decreased slightly from 4,580 in 2023 to 4,454 in 2024.

A continued lack of affordable housing was again the top reason cited for being unhoused by those voluntarily surveyed.

This year there were 239 volunteer surveyors compared to 170 last year.

“This year’s count could not have been completed both without our unhoused neighbors willing to share their information and the community’s involvement and support,” Mayor Lisa Brown said. “I sincerely appreciate all the collaboration that it takes to pull this huge regional undertaking off and look forward to future conversations with our partners in the community surrounding housing and homelessness.”

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 Continuum of Care and City partnered with Empire Health Foundation, the City of Spokane Valley, Spokane County, Eastern Washington University, Whitworth University, Washington State University, homeless outreach event organizers in both Spokane and Spokane Valley and others to deploy surveyors to various areas of the county.

This year’s audit of Spokane’s homeless shelter system resulted in recommendations for a more cost-effective, relationship-based system that includes transitioning from a large congregate shelter with the Trent Resource and Assistance Center (TRAC) to a model with smaller, scattered sites and a navigation center.

Following success of a pilot projects in which churches were utilized as small shelters last winter, the City issued a $3.85 million request for proposals for a housing navigation center operator and service provider with funding from the Washington State Department of Commerce Consolidated Homeless Grant. Applications are due Sunday, June 16, at 8 p.m. Proposals are also being sought for a $9 million RFP for affordable housing development through June 28 and a $4.5 million RFP for housing-related services projects through July 17, both with federal and local sales tax funds.

Mayor Brown last week declared an emergency to implement responses to the opioid crisis. The City’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) also adopted a new structure to improve complaint response, broaden geographical coverage, and better serve community needs concerning illegal camping and other secondary impacts of homelessness.  

TRAC will gradually be decommissioned this fall under a tentative timeline, but could still possibly be used during hazardous weather events as the lease signed by the previous Administration expires in 2025. The state Legislature appropriated $4 million to assist with the transition out of TRAC and $1 million to coordinate street medicine outreach.

Homelessness remains a complex nationwide problem. The national PIT estimate of the homeless population has increased each of the past six years, according to HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress for 2023 that was released in January 2024. On a single night in 2023, 653,104 people – or about 20 of every 10,000 people in the United States – were experiencing homelessness. The national count is the highest number of people reported as experiencing homelessness on a single night since such reporting began in 2007.