Not this year.
The Thurston County Homeless Census, which takes place Thursday, will focus on counting people who come into Olympia for meals and social services. Organizers will set up events to draw them in rather than going to them.
Theresa Slusher, the county’s homeless coordinator, said organizers were concerned about the safety of volunteers who head into the woods after three homeless-related homicides in the past year.
“There have been concerns about going into the camps for many years,” said Anna Schlecht, housing program manager for Olympia and the coordinator of the census. “Doing a camp census is kind of invasive, and you run the risk of running into people’s guard dogs.
“You also run the risk of spraining an ankle,” she said, adding that it’s safer to do the work indoors.
Schlecht said just 171 out of 724 homeless people counted last year were unsheltered or in cars. She said she thinks organizers can make up for the people they will miss in the count in the woods.
The counting will take place in an event billed as Homeless Connect, set for 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday at First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St. SE, in downtown Olympia. Haircuts, food and social services will be provided, Schlecht said.
Nearby at Temple Beth Hatfiloh, doctors will be on hand to help point people to medical services. Free vaccinations will be available. The event lasts from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Some services also will be offered outdoors for people with their dogs and bikes, or those who don’t want to go inside, Schlecht said.
Similar services will be offered from 1-4 p.m. at Yelm Community Services, 624 Crystal Springs Road NW.
“To me, the bigger purpose is I want folks … to be invited in to a warm place,” Slusher said. “I want them to feel a sense of community. And that the community is inviting them.”
Volunteers also will count people at other shelters and social service agencies.
The information gleaned from the count helps the community qualify for grants for social service programs.
Slusher said the county is making a special effort to count young people this year. Of the 691 people who gave an age in last year’s census, 320 were 25 or younger. There were 45 homeless people counted between 18 and 20; 87 between 21 and 25; and 188 younger than 18.