Most people know that every ten years the Department of Commerce administers a Decennial Census, a census count of everyone in the United States. But some don’t know that every year in January each county in the country (all 3,006 counties) take a census count of homeless people. The homeless census is called the Point in Time Homeless Census and is sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to the 2020 Point in Time Homeless Census Final Report of the Office of Housing and Homelessness Prevention in Thurston County, the county department part of the Thurston County Housing Authority and responsible for organizing our county’s census, the goals of the census are that, “The PIT collects data on people who are unsheltered (without any place to sleep), sheltered (sleeping in an emergency shelter), or transitionally housed. The PIT is vital to meeting the 1st objective in Thurston County’s Homeless Crisis Response Plan, to ‘quickly identify and engage all people experiencing homelessness under the state definition, and all unaccompanied youth under any federal definition, through outreach and coordination between every system that encounters people experiencing homelessness.’”
Census counts in Yelm and our surrounding area have been taken for many years. At one time the local Lions Club volunteers would take the census here at the Lions Club Cabin on Yelm Avenue. In 2018, a local group of volunteers, including original members of Love Abounds Here, began taking the count in the spots where people stayed. We had been getting to know our houseless neighbors for several months at that time and had a good understanding of where to find them on the PIT census day.
In fact, that first PIT census day out in the field turned out to be quite an eye-opener. You can look back at the archives of the Nisqually Valley News, for a report on what happened in 2018. A cross between our PIT effort that year and a camp clearing added not only to LAH’s beginning history of advocacy for our houseless neighbors, but our we can see how many perspectives on homelessness have changed since then. See articles at https://www.yelmonline.com/stories/homeless-camp-cleaned-up-after-multiple-complaints,104745 and https://www.yelmonline.com/stories/community-proactive-in-fighting-opioid-homeless-epidemic,104795?
The numbers collected in our part of Thurston County have also changed. Here are the basic PIT count numbers attributed to Yelm in the past few years:
2017 – 18 people
2018 – 28 people
2019 – 35 people
2020 – 30 people
2021 – 54 people
2022 – 56 people
Archives of these numbers and full PIT census reports for these years and before can be found at https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/sscp/reports.html
From Love Abounds Here’s perspective, we can see that our work with becoming personally familiar with each and every homeless person who is either chronically homeless (lived the lifestyle for years), newly homeless due to mostly economic downturns such as disruptions in family life, evictions or many times loss of work due to physical and/or mental health situation, our work and methodology has paid off in what we feel are more accurate number counts and thus showing a more true picture of our local homeless population. In fact, this past year’s number could actually be higher in that we always respect the wishes of our contacts and we know that close to 15 people were not counted according to their wishes.
We do what to also emphasize that we have found that the rise in the number count in our area is not directly related to new people coming to our area. We have found in the additional demographic data gathered that most of the people we serve have either lived in Yelm or the surrounding area for years, or were even born and grew up here. Again, our commitment to finding people where they are for the census count pays off by showing us a more real picture.
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