Thurston County homeless count down a bit

Preliminary data reports homeless students at all-time high; total homeless goes down, number unsheltered up

ahobbs@theolympian.comApril 12, 2014 

South Sound Foursquare Church administrator Brad Morrill cautiously approaches a recently abandoned campsite on Olympia's west side in February 2011 during the Thurston County Homeless Census.

STEVE BLOOM — Staff file

Early results from the annual homeless census show mixed trends in Thurston County, while a school census reveals an all-time high number of homeless students.

The 2014 Point-in-Time (PIT) Census was held Jan. 23 to track the county’s homeless population. Volunteers counted 603 homeless people – 83 fewer than last year’s count. However, the number of them who were unsheltered increased by 26.

In addition, a separate year-long census of Thurston County schools reported 1,584 homeless students, compared with 1,123 last year. The previous high mark was 1,269 students in 2010.

Unlike the PIT Census’ one-day count, the school census includes students who are staying with friends and family.

Census organizers are still sifting through data and expect to release a complete report by the end of April, said Anna Schlecht, homeless census coordinator. She credits a couple of factors for the lower one-day count this year: rapid rehousing programs such as SideWalk and the recently opened Quixote Village, whose 30 residents are no longer considered homeless.

“It’s going in the right direction,” Schlecht said of the preliminary data.

SideWalk provides placement to most shelters in the community for single adults. The program offers short-term rental assistance and case management to get qualified homeless individuals into housing and follows up with clients to keep them moving forward. In 2013, the program placed 128 homeless people into housing, along with 42 people who had just left jail or drug treatment, said program director Phil Owen.

SideWalk spends an average of $1,300 per client. This week, Owen applied for grants that could further expand the program’s reach and effectiveness.

“Reducing homelessness is always good news,” said Owen, who eagerly awaits the full results of the 2014 homeless census. “Data collection is vital to all of us in terms of improving our programs.”

The homeless census began in 2006 as part of a statewide effort to reduce homelessness 50 percent by July 2015. The highest totals for the one-day count came in 2010, when 976 homeless people were counted. Out of that total, 363 were unsheltered. The census results help determine how to serve the homeless. The data are also reported to state and federal government for public funding purposes.

As for the higher number of homeless students, the results include only children enrolled in school. According to census organizers, 42 percent of homeless children are estimated to be under age 6.

Statewide, the number of homeless students in Washington schools has increased 64 percent since the 2007-08 school year. In 2012-13, the count was 30,609 homeless students, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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