EVERETT — Snohomish County’s homeless population is at its highest level in 10 years, according to data released Monday.
The figures come from this year’s one-time count, when officials and volunteers traveled around the county to interview people living on the streets, in shelters or in transitional housing.
Monday’s data is the county’s first broad assessment of homelessness since the pandemic began, as COVID-19 hampered counts last year.
At the Feb. 22 event, Aaron King of Catholic Community Services was assigned to downtown Everett. Clipboard in hand, he scanned the streets for people to talk to. But it was hard to find someone.
He speculated that the city’s “no-sit no-lie” ordinance had dispersed people across town. The law targeted homeless people in a 10-block stretch of downtown where many were congregating.
‘I know they’re there,’ he told the Daily Herald that day, ‘because our caseloads have steadily increased since then.’
Weeks later, the data confirmed what King, housing advocates and service providers had been saying during the pandemic: Homelessness has worsened here during the public health emergency.
That’s “despite increased efficiencies and system-wide investments that continue to help more households each year,” a county news release said Monday.
The new data offers insight into demographic change.
More households were in protected homelessness than in 2020, and more of these households were in chronic homelessness.
A total of 1,184 people were identified. That’s a 42.8% increase from the county’s low point in 2015 and an increase of 52 people since the 2020 count. The number of people living outside of shelters is down 13.2% from compared to 2020. Meanwhile, shelters saw a 30.7% increase in clients. At 600 people, that number was the highest since 2013. The county says that’s due to an increase in shelter capacity, including cold weather shelters that were open the night of this year’s count.
During the pandemic, the county launched new initiatives to bolster housing, including a plan to convert an Everett hotel into a shelter, a new sales tax and relaxed zoning restrictions to encourage ‘missing middle’ housing. . But without a one-time count that year, director of social services MJ Brell Vujovic told the Daily Herald that the county’s understanding of the evolution of homelessness was largely anecdotal.
This year, the percentage of people enumerated who were black fell from 11.2% in 2020 to 6.4%. There was a slight increase among Hispanic and Latino respondents, as well as people who were transgender or who did not identify solely as male or female.
Organizations that provide food and other services to the homeless also help count people in the days following the official count. Yet the one-time process is an imperfect process that inevitably misses people.
During the count, Mandy Jeffcott banged on plywood and tarp shelters under I-5. Jeffcott works as a Community Services Advisor for the county.
“Morning. Anyone in there?” she asked.
After no response, she left.
“I’m not going to be the only one rocking their tent,” Jeffcott said.
Some people refuse to talk to counters. Others described difficulty entering shelters during a historic cold snap weeks earlier.
Felicia Rodriguez, 49, slept in her car at Lowell Park the night before. She told Jeffcott that she was not comfortable sleeping in a shelter so close to strangers.
But when the temperatures dropped dangerously, she scrambled to get a bed. She did not succeed.
“I was crying and everything,” Rodriguez told the counters. “Looks like you can’t get help from anyone here.”
Jeffcott spoke with a man from Broadway who knew nothing about cold shelters.
“There are far too many members of our community who are homeless and traumatized daily by their lack of shelter,” Vujovic said in the press release on Monday. “We are committed to doing all we can to ease the suffering and help our neighbors transition to a more stable and sustainable life.”