Quick Take— Every January King County undertakes a survey to estimate the total homeless and unsheltered population in the area. This year the survey takes place in the context of Seattle’s ongoing homelessness crisis. The survey is also being conducted under new leadership, aiming to capture an even broader and more accurate picture of the crisis than ever before.
Next Friday Seattle organization All Home will conduct King County’s annual effort to measure its homeless population. Seattle residents might be familiar with the name “One Night Count,” but this year the survey will be called “Count Us In.” The 2017 survey has a new name and a new organizer but the effort will fulfill the same federally mandated requirement.
Every January communities across the country organize to perform a requisite survey of homelessness in their areas. These surveys, conducted by local organizations and volunteer teams, are called Point In Time (PIT) counts and they are designed to capture the number of “…sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January.” Because unstably housed populations can’t be counted through regular census techniques (which typically require a home address) the PIT number represents the best estimate for an area’s homeless population in a given year.
In Seattle, these estimates have increased dramatically over the past couple of years, and in 2016 the Mayor declared homelessness to be a citywide crisis. It’s been almost 12 months since the mayor’s pronouncement and the city’s response to the crisis has been mired in conflict. The results of Seattle’s upcoming PIT count will show this city exactly where it stands in relation to the startling 2016 numbers. Not only does this count represent the first official PIT survey of overall homelessness since the crisis was declared, it also marks a shift in community leadership surrounding the process, bringing important changes to the data collection process.
The One Night Count organization has coordinated the Seattle and King County PIT count for 37 years, but in 2017 they pass the torch to All Home, another local organization already working in the sphere of homelessness. This leadership transition, coupled with changes to the federal guidelines, will alter the PIT process in key areas. All Home has released an outline of these changes on their website. New features include a “shift from a ‘known area’ count to a 100% canvass of every census tract in the county,” and “more comprehensive sample-based survey efforts including both shelter/service sites as well as non-service locations.” Such decisions mark an effort to broaden the base of information collected to capture a more accurate (and perhaps more urgent) picture of Seattle’s current homelessness crisis. Simply put: these numbers could be the largest yet.
With All Home finishing preparations, the Seattle community, homeless and housed alike, is waiting for the PIT count to put a number to a crisis experienced by all.