Homelessness is on the rise in Island County, and the human services department needs help gathering information that could help solve the issue. The annual Point in Time count is Thursday, Jan. 25, and it aims to survey as many homeless individuals in the county as possible.
“The largest need is for volunteers that are willing to work in pairs and actually take the survey, and go out to a very specific region that we’ll have mapped out for them, and do sweeps,” said Joanne Pelant, county housing resource coordinator.
The second need is for volunteers to help at the two open house locations, SPIN Cafe in Oak Harbor and Island Church in Langley. Hot meals, free clothes and information will be provided to the individuals that come in to those locations to take the survey.
Volunteers work in two to three hour shifts and will ask people questions about where they slept the night before, if they’d struggled with homelessness for a year or more, the circumstances leading to their housing status, if they have a disability and other information. The information from this count gets used to see trends and enhance the understand of local needs, Pelant said.
The federally mandated count has been happening in Washington state since 2005, and is the longest running data the state has on the subject, she said. The focus is largely on the chronically homeless, who are individuals who have struggled with homelessness for a year or more and have a disability. The number of chronically homeless in Island County is gradually increasing, Pelant said.
“Most of these people have very complex lives, and many of those complexities end up being barriers to get into housing,” she said. “So solving the homeless problem for those individuals is complicated.”
The data also gets used to determine funding at for the issue, so it’s important to have the most accurate count possible. Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson encourages people to volunteer with the effort.
“You learn a lot by participating in it,” she said.
Individuals who are interested can contact Catherine Reid at 360-678-7804 for North and Central Whidbey or Joanne Pelant at 360-678-7962 for South Whidbey.
“For someone that loves to contribute to our community, it’s actually a fun and rewarding day,” said Pelant.