Each year hundreds of volunteers - students, teachers, city council members, churches, and synagogues - take to the streets to perform a head count with the hope of determining how many people are actually sleeping on the streets and in shelters in the greater Seattle area. This year the geographical area was extended to include growing outlying areas like Renton and other communities. This year the count yielded a total of 2,140 people.
The data collected last night, Thursday, January 25, report mixed results. While the numbers show an increase of homeless people counted, 289 of those were counted in new geographical areas. That actually indicates a slight decrease (5%) in areas counted in the past. Because not everyone without housing actually gets counted (for example, people staying on friends couches, in motels), the rule is to triple the actual count to arrive at a number approximating the actual number of homeless people in our area. Also not counted in the one night count are the number of people in shelters (although Tent Cities were counted). These numbers will be collected and added to the total. Of particular note to me are the twenty-two minors counted. This data, of course, is difficult to analyze. We have to ask if Seattle and King County's effort to end homelessness in ten years is starting to have an effect two years into the program? Are homeless people moving into outlying areas because of increased police intervention in the city? Did the weather affect the count?
As someone who has participarted in the count a number of times, I think that every church in Seattle needs to get its people to volunteer. This year there were 735 volunteers; wouldn't it be incredible if half or more of these were church people? The impact of walking around the streets in the early morning hours do perform this work is humbling, angering, and life-changing. Walking around looking for homeless people runs counter to what most people typically do - try to look away from and not see homeless people. The number of people living in cars, unable to access shelters, sleeping under overpasses is staggering. After the night of counting is over, it has been tradition to head to a local cafe and wait for the numbers to be totalled. A press conference is called and a quick summary of the night is offered. If this isn't what the church should be doing, then I don't know what our mission could be.
Go here to read more about the One Night Count. Tables of count categories as well as the press release are available.
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