Monday, March 4, 2024

Annual PIT count uncovers increased unsheltered homelessness

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WENATCHEE – The latest Homeless Point in Time Count reveals a shift in homelessness trends in Chelan and Douglas counties. The count, conducted on Jan. 25, shows a 16.5% rise in the unsheltered population alongside a nearly 8% drop in sheltered individuals compared to last year.

This year's count found 141 people experiencing homelessness outdoors or in unfit habitation, marking an increase of 20 individuals from the previous year's 121. Conversely, the number of those in emergency shelters or temporary housing solutions, such as the RV Safe Parks and hotel/motel voucher programs, decreased to 341 from 368.

Douglas County Commissioner Marc Straub emphasized the value of the Point in Time (PIT) count for resource allocation, stating, "As decision makers, the PIT count provides invaluable information on how best to use available resources to address homelessness in our two counties to move the needle in a meaningful way."

Echoing the sentiment, Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay highlighted the timeliness of this data for strategic planning. The Chelan-Douglas Homeless Housing Task Force will utilize the PIT count findings to set priorities and projects for the coming years, aiming to address the root causes of homelessness in the region.

“This is timely information, as the Chelan-Douglas Homeless Housing Task Force is now beginning work toward establishing priorities and projects for the next five years,” Overbay said. “Using the PIT Count numbers, our aim is to determine the root cause of homelessness in our area. Do we make a larger investment in low-cost tools, such as diversion monies, to help move unhoused people into permanent housing options quickly? Do we also need to create a centralized case management system that works with the region’s Coordinated Entry system to better track folks and give us real long-term answers and solutions? These numbers are only a snapshot in time of a larger, more complex issue we are trying to resolve.”

The count, a mandate by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Washington State Commerce, assesses the need for local and national homeless housing services. This year's effort saw participation from 22 agencies, including Chelan Valley HOPE and Upper Valley MEND, to provide a comprehensive demographic snapshot of the homeless population.

Among the unsheltered, 138 adults and three minors were counted, with the minor count remaining unchanged from 2023. The survey revealed varied living situations, including streets, vehicles, and other non-conventional settings, with 101 participants disclosing their last permanent residence.

The collected data also shed light on chronic homelessness, first-time homelessness, and reluctance or inability to access shelter services due to various reasons, including health issues, overcrowding, safety concerns, and the desire for independence or to remain with partners or pets.

Demographic insights indicate a significant number of the homeless population grappling with mental health disorders, physical disabilities, substance use, and varied age and racial identities, including a small veteran contingent.

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