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Unsheltered homeless won't be counted in Seattle this year due to COVID-19

For the first time in at least 41 years, unsheltered homeless people won't be counted in Seattle.

SEATTLE — This year will be the first since at least 1980 there won’t be a count of people living outside in Seattle. 

The homeless census happens every January and provides a snapshot of how many people are living outdoors and in shelters within King County. The federal government requires every U.S. county to perform the count every two years, but King County has done it every year since before that mandate. 

Last month, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted permission to King County to not conduct the count over concerns around exposing volunteers and people being counted to the coronavirus.

In a December blog post from the King County Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), staff wrote it was "not advisable" to gather more than 1,000 volunteers to carry out the count during a pandemic. The department also said that the volunteer resources to plan, organize and conduct the count were "better prioritized" to ensure health and safety among the homeless, including reducing the spread of COVID-19.

RELATED: King County plans to buy a dozen hotels to house homeless in 2021

Although in-person surveys and counting people on the streets was canceled, the department said it would still conduct a count of people in shelters using the King County Homeless Management Information System.

In 2020, volunteers counted 11,751 people experiencing homelessness across King County, 53% of whom were sheltered. That’s up 5% from 11,199 people in 2019 but still down from 2018’s count of 12,112 people. 

Snohomish, Pierce and Spokane counties also requested waivers to skip the homeless count this year, according to DCHS.

RELATED: $4.3 million state grant will help provide shelter for homeless in Everett