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Survey shows a decline in Spokane homelessness

Official credits Salvation Army grant, stimulus act funds

The number of homeless people living in Spokane County has decreased slightly since last year.

City officials Friday released data from the 2012 Annual Point-in-Time Regional Homeless Count, which found the number of homeless dropped from 1,272 in 2011 to 1,185 in 2012.

The goal of the count, which was conducted the night of Jan. 26, is to provide a statistical snapshot of the region’s homeless population for planning purposes. In addition to demographic information such as race and ethnicity, the survey includes questions related to mental health, domestic violence, diseases such as HIV and AIDS, and substance abuse.

“The purpose of the count really is to gain a better understanding of our homeless population, as well as the needs they face,” said George Dahl, manager of the city’s Human Services Department. “It helps our locally elected officials – our mayor, our county commissioners, our City Council members – understand the local picture of homelessness.”

The count also found a drop in homeless families, which include at least one adult and one child. This year, the count identified 170 homeless families, a reduction of 104 families from the year before.

To conduct the count, a team of volunteers visited locations around the county, including the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza downtown, meal sites, shelters and encampments. Human Services partnered with more than 56 homeless programs for the count.

Although the total number of homeless decreased, some segments of the homeless population increased, including homeless veterans.

Last year, 91 homeless veterans were counted in Spokane County; 99 were counted this year, though the report says the number of unsheltered veterans fell this year.

The number of chronically homeless individuals also increased. Chronic homelessness is defined in the report as a homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continually homeless for a year or more, or who has had four episodes of homelessness in the last three years.

The surveys will be used to generate reports for the Washington state Department of Commerce and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The methodology used to gather the information was a combination of paper forms and data collected through the Homeless Management Information System, a sort of clearinghouse designed to track information on homeless individuals and their needs provided by homeless assistance providers.

“There’s certainly a margin of error anytime you’re trying to gather a count on people,” Dahl said, adding they’ve taken steps to avoid double counting people. “But I think it’s relatively accurate as a holistic picture of homelessness.”

Dahl attributed the overall decrease to a housing and essential needs grant administered by the Salvation Army that has allowed them to re-house more than 150 people, as well as the Rapid Re-housing Program, a program funded by the 2009 stimulus act that seeks to shelter the homeless.

“I like to think we just improve every year on how we do things and how we’re helping people,” he said.