Submitted by Thurston County Public Health and Social Services
On January 23rd, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services will conduct the Annual Homeless Census, or Point in Time Census, or PIT. In fact, every year on the fourth Thursday of January, Counties across America count people experiencing homelessness (sheltered and unsheltered). This count provides the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and Washington State Department of Commerce with information that shows the landscape of homelessness in our nation.
What is the Point in Time (PIT) Census?
The PIT helps communities find patterns in terms of who is experiencing homelessness and why, building a greater understanding of the causes and effects of housing insecurity for our most vulnerable citizens. Counting people who don’t have a regular address can be challenging, and the PIT remains a vital tool in understanding the changes our community faces over time, as well as measuring our effectiveness in providing new and better services to this population.
The annual PIT is mandated by the State of Washington’s Homeless Housing and Assistance Act (RCW 43.185C.030). This statute requires each County to “make every effort to count all homeless individuals living outdoors, in shelters, and in transitional housing, coordinated when reasonably feasible, with already existing homeless census projects including those funded in part by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the McKinney-Vento homeless assistance program”.
Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater will all assist Thurston County’s efforts, providing additional staff and resources to the 2020 PIT. Organizations in Yelm and Rochester will also be hosting PIT events, as well as providing surveys in Spanish. Volunteers will help provide survival and first aid gear to survey-takers trying to shelter-in-place to help them stay safe during hazardous weather.
The PIT census team is making particular efforts to engage groups of people who have never before been counted in order to build a truly regional picture of homelessness.
How Can I Help?
“We have a compassionate and dedicated community of Thurston County residents who want to help,” said Keylee Marineau, Homeless Program Coordinator for Thurston County Public Health and Social Services. “There are still opportunities to volunteer and get involved. The only way forward is together.”
We can only do this work with dedicated volunteers from our community. Volunteers include citizens from local schools and colleges, non-profit organizations, faith communities, businesses, elected officials, and people with lived expertise themselves. To volunteer to help with the PIT, visit the Point in Time volunteer webpage.
What Does the PIT Tell Us?
Thurston County, like much of the state and across the country, has seen a rise in people experiencing homelessness over the last 10 years. In 2019, the PIT found 800 people experiencing homelessness. Some of the 2019 significant findings about the 800 homeless respondents include:
- The two leading causes of homelessness were job loss and eviction
- 50 percent were unsheltered (up from 38 percent in 2018)
- 70 percent have been experiencing homelessness for more than a year (up from 62 percent in 2018)
- 33 percent are chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been homeless for over a year and have a disability (up from 27 percent in 2018)
- 38 percent of people incarcerated in County jails will be released to homelessness
Why is the PIT Important?
The results of the PIT Homeless Census will help to guide public funding and policy making. The final report will also include an assessment of available resources to help people get back to independence.
As a result of this count, every county reports census results to the state and federal governments to inform funding choices. This helps to secure a proportionate level of public funding for local shelters, transitional housing, and related supportive services. These numbers also help to create the most accurate picture of homelessness throughout the state and across the nation. Locally, census results are shared with all community stakeholders— policy makers, funders, service providers, concerned citizens, and to those who are experiencing homelessness themselves. To learn more about homelessness in Thurston County, visit Thurston County’s Homelessness webpage.