Just after 2AM this morning, my teammates and I headed out the door for the 2011 One Night Count, King County’s annual tally of the homeless population and the largest community-organized effort of its kind in the United States. This morning’s project marked the 31st year of the local count, and it’s the fifth time I’ve participated.
The One Night Count has two primary components and they both happen at the same point in time to capture the most accurate results. King County’s Homeless Housing Program (part of the Community Services Division) conducts a thorough survey of all emergency shelter and transitional housing providers and finds out how many people are staying under those collective roofs.
The second component is a street count of people staying outside, whether it’s in a vehicle, on a bench, or in makeshift shelters. The count includes portions of eleven suburban cities, unincorporated King County, and the Night Owl bus routes run by Metro.
My team was comprised of Real Change staff, and we walked along the north end of Lake Union, counting folks around Gas Works Park eastward toward the University District.
We found vans and campers that appeared to have one or two people in them, and thankfully we saw no one out completely in the cold or alone. Our group estimated around 20 people in vehicles. Upon our return to the Compass Center, we talked to a number of people who have been doing the One Night Count for many years. Everyone I spoke to acknowledged that fewer people were found outside and alone this year, and that’s good news.
The results from the 2011 count were released later this morning and they confirmed our 5am speculation. I want to share the message from Bill Block, Director of the King County Committee to End Homelessness, about the compiled results and what they mean:
I am very pleased to report that the One-Night-Count of unsheltered persons dropped almost 12% this year, following on a 5% drop last year. Many factors can influence these numbers, but the trend is clear – even in the face of the recession, our efforts are making a difference.
This last year saw the opening of hundreds of units dedicated to helping people leave homelessness, and substantial investments in prevention and rapid rehousing, particularly through the federal stimulus package. We knew that these were changing the lives of the real people we serve; now we can also say our work is affecting the overall numbers.
Our challenge is to keep our momentum. The stimulus package is expiring, the state Home Security Fund (which provides a substantial part of our funding) is facing a $12 million deficit, and the Housing Trust Fund is at risk. Perhaps most important, key state safety net programs such as Basic Health, Disability Lifeline and TANF are being slashed and some may be eliminated altogether.
We told you that your commitment and support could make a difference and it has. We will need your help in this legislative session and the coming year to maintain and accelerate our progress.
As Bill indicates, we can’t rest on our laurels. The results of the count have improved in 2010 and 2011, but our mission remains the same: a roof over every head. The count will happen again on a winter night in 2012. Will I see you there?