Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308
Monday, April 9, 2018 at 12:01 p.m.
You’ve probably seen the signs around town that suggest there are still a lot of people in the Spokane area who are experiencing homelessness.
Now, the results of the “Everybody Counts” census taken last January are in and the survey puts our population at 1,245 sheltered and unsheltered individuals. That’s a 14 percent increase over last year.
“We’re excited this year to have a much broader set of data to examine and a much broader group of individuals who we were actually able to survey in the count so, getting a more representative sample of people experiencing homelessness helps us craft better solutions,” said Dawn Kinder of the City’s Community, Housing and Human Services department.
This year the survey cast a much wider net counting the homeless in Spokane Valley and rural areas.
Expanding the survey’s boundaries beyond the Spokane city limits drove up the number of unsheltered people to 310 individuals. That’s a 125 percent jump from last year.
But the study also found there were decreases in other important areas.
“So we saw a decrease in the number of veterans experiencing homelessness, a decrease in the number of young people experiencing homelessness, who are unaccompanied and alone on our streets. We also saw a decrease in chronically homeless individuals. So in three of those areas where we really concentrated services in 2017, we saw a decrease in those numbers on the street,” Kinder said.
The survey, taken at 173 locations, was more than just a headcount.
Participants were asked more than 30 questions about how they became homeless and what they feel are barriers to their recovery.
“And many people reported, not surprisingly, a lack of income and lack of affordable housing that are really the two biggest things that either caused or are preventing them from no longer being homeless,” explained Kinder.
Family rejection and conflict are the next most common reasons why people wind up on the street. Nine percent of the people said they were fleeing domestic violence.
One quarter of the people surveyed acknowledged they had mental health problems.
One of the people who participated in the survey was William Faust. “If I had a magic wand, I would wave it for more affordable housing, not slumlord housing, regular housing that a person could feel safe and secure in,” Faust said.
Echoing Faust’s statements, The Everybody Counts survey found we all want the same out of life. Food, shelter and a way to take care of the things we care about.
Now with a new, more accurate snapshot of the challenges these people face, Kinder says Spokane is better prepared to help them.
“We have an incredibly committed group of non- profits and elected officials who are trying to address this issue head-on so we are seeking opportunities to be innovative locally,” Kinder pledged.
Kinder is among the homeless experts who hope you’ll support those local efforts by donating money to non-profits instead of individuals on the street.
“I think the biggest challenge with donating cash to individuals is that money does not go as far when it’s given to one person as it does when it’s given to an agency that can leverage that donation into a much broader set of resources for meaningful outcomes,” added Kinder.
The results of the Everybody Counts survey were tabulated months ahead of schedule because this year, the census data was punched into a computer program.
That means with the help of the number- crunching software, Spokane can start looking at different ways to help reduce our homeless problems that much sooner.
“How do we help people find good wage jobs and how do we help people move into affordable quality housing for themselves and their families? I would want that for myself and I would want that for anyone else in my community who is experiencing hard times,” Kinder said passionately.
Kinder feels the nearly 100 volunteers who conducted this survey have done the Spokane area a big favor.
The details they discovered in the field will now be used by local agencies to apply for additional grants and funding for outreach services.
Kinder feels since a lack of money can trigger homelessness, it’s not surprising it’s going to take more money to fix the problem.