Help count homeless people and be part of the solution | In our opinion

You should go out and count homeless people. Island County officials need volunteers to help with the Point in Time count of homeless people on Thursday, Jan. 24.

It’s both a weird idea and a sad necessity, but important for a lot of reasons.

First of all, it’s the law.

It’s about money. The amount of funding the county and the state receive to help prevent homelessness and render aid to people sans homes is dependent on how bad the problem is. An accurate count means that Island County will get a fair amount of funds to battle the devastating problem.

It’s about community. The people who live here should know how many people are struggling with homelessness, whether it’s the shockingly high number of students who couch surf, families who live in cars or the guys who aggressively panhandle in Oak Harbor.

It’s about politics. Elected officials and other government officials need facts when they try to convince people about the realities and the need for such basic services as shelters — from emergency beds to stable, affordable housing.

Perhaps most important, it’s about witnessing. The county needs people from all walks to life to see for themselves how homelessness is a real problem, how it can happen to hard-working adults with the best intentions and how it inevitably devastates children. They need to witness and tell their families and friends what they saw, even if it’s just the melancholy site of empty tents in the woods.

Homelessness comes in many forms. As officials on the island have repeated over and over again, the visible and sometimes troublesome homeless people in downtown Oak Harbor and other places represent only a small portion of people without shelter in the county. This population may be the most complex to deal with — mostly because of mental health problems — but they are still people who deserve compassion.

To paraphrase a guy named Jesus, shouldn’t we share our bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into our homes?

And by the way, the majority of people who are homeless in the county are either from the area or have close ties. And contrary to rumors, there are no buses bringing transients to Whidbey Island to take advantage of services that don’t exist.

The News-Times has covered the issue of homelessness and affordable housing a great deal. We’ve introduced the community to good people who fell on hard times, as well homeless, mentally disabled people who committed violent crimes. We’ve explained the challenges elected officials, social workers, schools and the criminal justice system face in dealing with homelessmess.

It can only help for more people to see the realities for themselves.

To sign-up to volunteer, contact Emily Wildeman by phone at 360-678-7804 or by email at e.wildeman@co.island.wa.us.

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