Zeroing in on the precise number of homeless individuals in Pierce County isn’t easy. In fact, it’s an inexact science.
That didn’t stop volunteers and social service outreach teams from fanning out and scouring the county’s riverbanks and bushes Friday, trying to get as close as possible to quantifying the problem of homelessness in our area. It was all part of what’s officially known as the Pierce County Point-in-Time Count, an annual undertaking the helps the county and its many service-providers identify trends in homelessness.
Similar efforts were made across the country. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a count of people staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as well as a count of unsheltered individuals. While these counts are mandated by the federal government, they’re carried out locally.
In Pierce County, the count happened at six locations. Teams were also dispatched to known homeless encampments in Tacoma, Puyallup and Sumner. Individuals who are contacted voluntarily and anonymously participate in a survey.
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The Point In Time survey asks them where they slept the night before and collects information about age, race, ethnicity and disabilities. It also asks about circumstances that led to a person becoming homeless and his or her sources of income and benefits.
Tess Colby, manager of Pierce County Connections’ department of housing, homelessness and community development, said she expects results from this year’s count to be made available by April.
Last year, 1,283 individuals were counted as homeless in Pierce County, with 942 staying in area shelters and 341 living without shelter. According to the county, there’s been a 29 percent decrease in total homelessness since 2010, but a 26 percent increase in chronic homelessness.