Tenth homeless count to document solutions, target youth


The 10th yearly snapshot of homelessness in Clallam County will be finished tomorrow, Jan. 31, as program officials complete their count over the last 10 days of January. 

Expanding the time frame from a single day enables a more complete Point-in-Time count of homeless people, with a special emphasis on counting unaccompanied youth. 

"Better information leads to better data leads to positive changes for youth and for all of our community," said Kathy Wahto, executive director of Serenity House of Clallam County — the nonprofit agency with which Clallam County has contracted each year to conduct the count required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Point-in-Time counts began in 2003 and have resulted in the transformation of the homeless system, Wahto said. 

"The focus is now on permanent and stable housing for households in our county who are experiencing housing crisis," she said. "When you plan for appropriate housing placement instead of more emergency shelter, you are working on solving a problem and not just managing a problem."

Data from early Point-in-Time counts sparked an active 10 years of change, with many partners, including the Housing Authority, behavioral health agencies, hospital districts and others, working together to accomplish the change in direction. 

A formal Ten Year Plan to end homelessness — often referred to as the TYP — was adopted by the Clallam County Board of Commissioners in December 2005. So much of the TYP had been accomplished that it was substantially revised in 2010 and the commissioners adopted it again.

Numbers of literally homelessness individuals and families (living on the streets) declined by 61.5 percent, and overall homelessness was reduced 65.4 percent, including people in shelters, in transitional programs and at risk of homelessness.

The count in action

Each year, trained street people volunteer to help count, while meals, activities, prizes, care packages and other kinds of direct incentives encourage people to participate. 

“We have been doing the P-I-T count since 2003 so we have a good reputation,” Wahto said. “Nothing bad has come to people who have been counted, information has been kept confidential and we have proven that we use information to improve services or quality of services and provide more housing.”

In the past, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has directed a one-day count, but the agency has approved an extended effort this year to better reach remote communities and reticent populations.
"To help overcome youth cynicism or outright hostility, the approach will be to ask about their housing status, rather than to ask them to take a homeless survey,” Shirley Anderson, deputy director for Serenity House’s Homeless Youth Services, said.

For information about Point-in-Time activities in east and central Clallam County, call Serenity House at 452-7224.

Clallam chosen for Youth Counts!

Clallam County has been chosen to engage in Youth Counts!, an interagency initiative responding to a nationwide perception that youth up to 24 years old have been undercounted in past Point-in-Time counts. 

In November, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, known as USICH, invited Serenity House, along with Whatcom and Skagit counties and state Department of Commerce staff, to be one of nine communities across the country implementing this pilot outreach census of homeless youth. Other Youth Counts! participants are King County in Washington; Boston, Mass.; New York City, N.Y.; Cleveland, Ohio; Hennepin County, Minn.; Houston, Texas; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Los Angeles, Calif.

The initiative is designed to employ strategies for counting unaccompanied homeless and at-risk youth and to develop recommendations for a framework for ending youth homelessness. 

While Youth Counts! is tied to the 2013 Point-in-Time count, it will specifically help inform a plan for youth and young adults, focused on safe housing choices, health services, education and vocational training. 

Participants work closely with all school districts, DSHS, Juvenile Services and local nonprofits to survey the circumstances of local at-risk youth. 

“The homeless census provided the key data to inform the strategies of our local TYP,” Anderson said. “We hope for the same impact from the 2013 Youth Counts surveys.” 
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