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King County to skip homelessness count for 2nd straight year

A King County council member spoke out against the decision to skip a homelessness count, saying it is a valuable tool to spot new trends.

SEATTLE — King County doesn’t plan to conduct its annual homelessness count for the second year in a row saying the survey is an undercount and skews the narrative.

Instead, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) plans to conduct “qualitative engagements” to learn more about the experiences of the homeless, which could include surveys, interviews and focus groups.

The agency is also looking at other ways to collect more accurate data about the number of homeless individuals, according to a November post on KCRHA’s website.

Traditionally, the Point In Time (PIT) count relies on volunteers to document the number of unsheltered people they see across the county on a single night, with an additional estimate for people that volunteers couldn’t see. Sheltered people are recorded through a county database and shelter providers.

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The county also didn’t conduct a PIT count in 2020 due to COVID-19.

A PIT count is required every two years by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to receive federal funding. KCRHA plans to conduct a PIT count in 2023 if required.

KCRHA’s decision sparked backlash among some. King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn wrote a letter Tuesday to KCRHA CEO Marc Dones urging the county to reinstate the count, saying he was worried the move would jeopardize federal funding and the county would miss out on valuable data around homelessness.

“While I have also been critical of the Point in Time Count in the past because the data is less than accurate, I remain aware that it offers a basic understanding of the year-to-year change in our homeless population and it can be a valuable tool for spotting emerging trends and issues,” Dunn wrote in the letter.

The KCRHA says the qualitative study will "likely include a headcount" that meets the requirements to receive federal funding.

In 2019, volunteers counted 11,751 people experiencing homelessness in King County, which was a 5% increase from 2018. KCRHA said it believes the actual total of homeless individuals was higher than that figure.


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