BREMERTON — Kitsap County will conduct its annual Point in Time Count Jan. 23-26.
Volunteers will count the number of unsheltered homeless people in the county and collect basic demographic information— whether homeless individuals use county resources and why, what led to homelessness, and more.
“Unsheltered homelessness” is defined as people living in the woods, on the streets, in cars, in abandoned buildings orotherwise taking shelter in places not meant to be residences.
The Point in Time Count of unsheltered homeless people is mandated by state and federal agencies. However, KitsapCounty also makes an effort to count the sheltered homeless: those in emergency or transitional housing, those in hospitalsor jail, and those who are staying with family or friends.
“It allows us to have a snapshot of what homelessness looks like on a particular week each year,” said Corey Derenburger,Housing and Homelessness Program specialist with Kitsap County Human Services.
Derenburger said volunteers “go out and survey in areas that have been designated by the outdoor homeless committee,where encampments are.” Kitsap County Human Services also works with social workers, law enforcement and otheroutreach workers to identify where unsheltered homeless people may be staying to reach as many people as possible.
Volunteers take a form survey with them, which people can answer and provide more detailed information. If they choosenot to answer the survey, volunteers make note of the location they’re staying, which gender they present as, and theirapproximate age.
The count not only helps keep track of an oft overlooked portion of the local population, it also enables the county to applyfor funding emergency shelters, food banks and other services.
“It’s important because it gives us more information about people who are trying to survive living outside,” said KirstenJewell, Housing and Homelessness Program coordinator. “We have information about people who are seeking services,because we collect that information throughout the year. We often don’t have a way to collect information about people whoaren’t seeking services. The Point in Time Count gives us a snapshot.
“It really helps us understand the need, especially when we find a lot of people outside and they’re not seeking services,and we want to understand why.”
She said the count helps them identify which services are most needed and, sometimes, which services are needed but notprovided.
In recent years, Jewell said the county has added more than 60 new emergency shelter beds — 20 at Kitsap Rescue Missionin Bremerton, and somewhere between 40-60 managed by the Salvation Army during winter.
She said the most recent count took place in August 2017 to see how homeless population numbers changed in thesummer.
“As we expected, more people are living outside in the summertime,” Jewell said.
It’s important to note, Jewell said, that the Point in Time Count is unable to count every homeless member of thecommunity.
“It’s kind of a snapshot of the number of people who are surviving outside,” she said. “We’re not counting everybody. Wedon’t find everybody to survey.”
She said sometimes the locations just aren’t known, or people aren’t there when they otherwise might be. And weather canbe a factor.
“We don’t consider it to be a definitive count, we think of it as a snapshot,” she said. “As a counterpoint to that, we look atstatistics of people accessing homeless services throughout the year.”
Also this year, Kitsap County Human Services is extending its efforts to reach out to people through Project Connect eventsin Bremerton, Port Orchard and Kingston. These are free, one-day, one-stop community services fairs for individuals andfamilies who may be homeless, face the imminent risk of homelessness, or need access to community services.
Jan. 23, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Christian Life Center, 1780 Lincoln Ave. SE, Port Orchard.
Jan. 24, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., The Salvation Army, 832 Sixth St., Bremerton.
Jan. 25, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Village Green Community Center, 26159 Dulay Road NE, Kingston.
To volunteer, go to www.kitsapgov.com/hs/housing/housing_grant.htm.
— Michelle Beahm is online editor for Kitsap News Group. firstname.lastname@example.org.