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Snohomish County’s homeless population continues to grow

Snohomish County’s recorded homeless population increased by 258 people this year, according to data from a one-night count in January.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — The number of people experiencing homelessness in Snohomish County is the highest it’s been since 2014.

On a one-night count in January, volunteers recorded 1,116 homeless people, about 54 percent of whom were on the street, in a car, or in an abandoned building.

The count indicates a 58 percent increase in the number of unsheltered people from last year. Snohomish County’s unsheltered population (599 people) also exceeded the number of people in shelters and emergency housing (517 people) for the first time in six years.

Officials believe the number of people experiencing homelessness is increasing, but Snohomish County also pointed to a change in methodology as one of the reasons behind the spike. 

The one-night count relies on volunteer observations, which can historically undercount unsheltered people. To have a fuller perspective, the county also used coordinated entry data, which helps people access housing and services.

Because of this new data, more families experiencing homelessness were recorded.

"It's difficult to locate them," said Amanda Loaris, a community services counselor for the Human Services Department. "They're still trying to have their daily routine remain as steady and normal for their children."

Also see | King County homeless count shows increase in American Indians, Alaska Natives

"I wasn't surprised by the statistics on families," she Loaris. "I was glad we were able to capture that number because I've had families on my caseload for as long as I've been a housing navigator."

The number of people living in shelters or emergency housing hasn’t changed much over the last few years, but the county says that’s due largely to shelters operating at maximum capacity. By the end of the year, the county expects 142 new units of affordable housing to open, which will hopefully have a positive impact on next year’s one-night count. However, the county cautioned it won’t be enough to meet the current demand.

"What's interesting is we're finding we're housing more people than ever before, and more people are becoming homeless than ever before," said Jesse Jorstad, lead data and program analyst for Snohomish County Human Services. "I think this really highlights the system can only get so efficient, that we do need more efforts in affordable housing."

He believes adding the coordinated entry data will improve the accuracy of the report, though it can cloud year to year comparisons with such a significant change to the way numbers are collected.

"There were a lot more families in that count, a lot more people of color in that count," Jorstad said. "It was a higher proportion of females. It was I think a good addition to the way we've been operating in the past."

Although the homeless population has risen over the last few years, the overall number of homeless individuals has fallen over 50 percent from 2010 when the county recorded 2,362 homeless people.

King and Pierce counties also recently released data from their one-night counts. King County saw a drop in the number of homeless people for the first time in years, although there’s still 11,199 people who are homeless in the county. Pierce County also saw a 9 percent drop this year, recording 1,486 homeless people.