Patricia Hoesman may have been surrounded by people Thursday morning, as she sat in front of an empty cup of coffee at a table with four other people, but she spoke about the isolation she feels.
“I just feel like I’m just a number,” Hoesman said.
That morning, she did contribute information to help create a collection of numbers that are considered critical for Island County. She participated in the annual Point in Time count of homeless individuals, a federally and state-mandated event that helps determine allocation of funding to address regional needs. It also helps track trends.
Last year’s one-day count found 166 homeless people. Because the count only goes on for one day and many of the encampments are empty when volunteers visit them, officials have said the number typically under-represents the extent of the issue but provides a “snapshot” to work from. The 2019 count found 46 people considered “chronically homeless,” which means they have been unsheltered for a year or more and have a disability. The number of chronically homeless has not improved over the years, officials reported last year.
This group of people tend to need significant support in order to be successful at staying housed, Island County Housing Coordinator Joanne Pelant has said. There aren’t any permanent supportive housing options that also provide behavioral health services in Island County.
Hoesman is one of those people with complicated needs who doesn’t really have a place she can go. She’s been staying at The Haven, a shelter run through various churches by the Whidbey Homeless Coalition, since last summer.
She has bipolar disorder, she said, and counselors from Compass Health periodically meet her to provide medication, but sometimes she misses the appointments and can’t get the medication until later. She worries the counselors are becoming frustrated with her.
Getting herself to appointments and services is difficult when she’s in depressive episodes, she said. There are long periods of time where she can’t shake the fatigue that accompanies depression.
“I don’t want to wake up,” she said. “I just feel like I could sleep for a month straight.”
Hoesman moved to Whidbey Island in 2001 after her husband died to live closer to her daughters, whom she’d lost custody of. She’s battled addiction and is still in recovery, she said.
She was grateful for the assistance she received Thursday, but not everyone felt positively about the effort. Volunteers were at times berated about the ineffectiveness of the surveys and some refused to participate. One man complained that he’d participated for many years and still wasn’t housed.
The counters traveled to known encampments, rode bus routes and walked certain areas of the city to try and get as accurate a count as possible.
The Haven is North Whidbey’s lone shelter and averages between 20 and 25 people per night, according to Krystal Hamlin, shelter program manager at the Whidbey Homeless Coalition. The residents at the overnight facility, however, are usually left with nowhere to go during the day.
Todd Allen, who has been staying at the shelter periodically over that past several months, said he spends his daylight hours walking around the city. The soles of his shoes wore off, he said, which made the winter weather particularly difficult to endure until he got new ones at the Garage of Blessings. Allen was one of many people who was able to get a new coat at the center Thursday during the count.
He also swapped his sweatpants for a pair of jeans and talked to a social worker about how to get a phone. He sported a wide grin as he showed off his new pants, happy to not feel like he was wearing pajamas anymore, he said.