The 2016 Thurston County Homeless Census starts at midnight Jan. 28 and will kick off another 10-year strategy to reduce homelessness.
For 24 hours, volunteers will do a “street count” by visiting people who sleep in parks, cars, doorsteps and abandoned buildings.
The county hired Olympia-based ACR Business Consulting to record the data from the inaugural I Count Thurston and present it to the public later this spring. Aaron Rodriguez, managing director and owner of ACR, said a new 10-year strategy for reducing homelessness will coincide with the 2016 census numbers.
He said the strategy will be a playbook that can help Thurston County reduce homelessness and increase affordable housing. The strategy will focus on ways that service agencies can strengthen their collaboration on efforts related to data collection, budgeting and forecasting.
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“It’s not about telling agencies how to change,” Rodriguez said. “It’s about creating a more cohesive system.”
Starting in 2006, the county tracked the homeless with its annual Point-in-Time census, which was part of a statewide effort to reduce homelessness 50 percent by July 2015. The census has reported the top causes for homelessness are job loss, family crisis or break-up, and illness or health problems.
The 2015 census counted 476 homeless people in Thurston County compared with 441 people in 2006,when the census started. In between those years, the count was highest in 2010 with 976 homeless people.
Local efforts such as the Interfaith Works Overnight Emergency Shelter and a rapid rehousing program called SideWalk are among those credited for the recent decline in homeless census numbers. With the census results, service providers can determine the level of need in the community when applying for funding and grants.
Two key partners in the 2016 census are United Way of Thurston County and the Anonymously Yours Foundation, a Tenino-based group that supplies database software for nonprofit organizations. Anonymously Yours has provided this year’s census with a program called Compass 360, which was developed as a comprehensive tool for storing data and managing daily activities.
Co-founder Omey Nandyal said the foundation was launched three years ago to help nonprofit organizations with online fundraising and social media. The foundation has served 32 nonprofit organizations, including local branches of United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Club.
During this year’s census, each homeless person who meets a census volunteer will receive a gift bag with food, drinks and coupons. Those who fill out a census form will be eligible for prizes such as food baskets and gift cards.