Early this morning, volunteers canvassing streets, parks, and buses all across King County recorded 2,442 people sleeping outside and in makeshift shelters as part of the 31st annual One Night Count of people who are homeless.
"That's 317 fewer people than teams counted one year ago, a drop of 11 percent," Alison Eisinger, the executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH), writes in a press release sent early this morning (SKCCH organizes the count). "This is the first double-digit drop we have seen in years of counting."
SKCCH says that the count is a preliminary estimate and doesn't reflect the 6,000 people staying in emergency shelter and transitional housing overnight. Still, it shows a significant drop in King County's unsheltered homeless population. SKCCH says a number of factors could contribute to the drop. For instance, more winter shelters were open in downtown Seattle and Redmond this year, keeping people of the streets. Recent flooding in Auburn, Renton, and Kent kept some areas from being counted by volunteers. And more housing options (including over 400 new apartments) have become available to homeless people through the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
I was among roughly 900 other volunteers (including Mayor Mike McGinn and Seattle City Council Members Sally Bagshaw and Tim Burgess) who counted the homeless between 2:00 to 5:00 a.m. this morning. It was my first experience with the One Night Count and I was placed in Belltown, which is coincidentally my neighborhood.
Here's an uncomfortable thing that happens when you're counting homeless people in your neighborhood: You see people you recognize, sleeping in doorways. You run into people you know—repeatedly—as they prowl the streets for hours (someone called it "survival walking"). And the first few times you say "hello!" when you see them because it seems like the polite thing to do but after awhile you realize that it makes them uncomfortable. They're pretending they have somewhere to be at 3:00 a.m. and 3:30 and 4:00 and every time you say "hello!" you ruin that pretense and make them feel ashamed.
And that is a horrible feeling. Like going to a petting zoo and coming home with dinner.
This year my group counted 74 homeless people in Belltown. My group leader was heartened by this number—last year his group found around 150 homeless people in the area.