The number of homeless people in Thurston County has risen substantially since last year, according to preliminary results from this year's homeless census released Thursday.
The annual census was conducted on Jan. 25, part of a national point-in-time count of homeless people. Results will guide state and federal funding for housing, shelter and support services.
In Thurston County, 828 people were identified as homeless, up from 534 in 2017. Of the 828 counted, 324 of those people were not staying in shelters or transitional housing, most of which were at or over capacity.
“I hope people are alarmed by that significant increase in homelessness,” said Anna Schlecht, Olympia’s housing program manager. “This has a big impact on our community, a big impact on our social services and housing resources, and it’s an even louder call to action.”
The homeless population in Thurston County peaked at 976 in 2010, according to homeless census data, then fell during the economic recovery before increasing this year.
Schlecht said this year’s increase reflects rising rates of homelessness up and down the Interstate 5 corridor.
“I think it’s fair to say homelessness grew with the recession, dropped in the recovery and then grew with West Coast rent increases,” she said.
Thurston County contracted with the city of Olympia to conduct this year’s census. Volunteers visited food banks, libraries, shelters and other facilities throughout Thurston County; outreach teams went to Tumwater, Tenino, Yelm and more rural parts of the county, said Faith Addicott, the city’s homeless census manager.
People counted in the census are asked to provide information on their situation, such as how long they’ve been homeless and how they became homeless.
“Homeless people are like other citizens — they don’t necessarily want to give their name to be in a government database,” Schlecht said. “It seems like we’re not capturing the full breadth of homelessness in Thurston County and certainly not capturing the full breadth in Olympia.”
This year, the city of Olympia conducted a headcount of people in area homeless camps and on downtown streets before dawn, separate from the census.
The city counted 130 people downtown and 633 in camps. Schlecht said the city plans to do more headcounts to track homelessness and plan its response.
Those numbers were not included in the official census.
The city is in the process of hiring a homeless response coordinator and planning to fund affordable housing projects after voters earlier this year approved a sales tax increase to support such projects.
Final census data will be released in May.
Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869, @AbbySpegman