Spokane’s homeless population increased 12 percent over last year, ending a three-year downward trend, according to the county’s annual one-night snapshot.
The most significant increase is among those who live on the streets, most of whom are considered chronically homeless – up 158 percent compared to 2013. People are considered chronically homeless when they’ve been without housing for more than a year or at least four times in three years.
There are 1,149 homeless people in Spokane County, according to the Homeless Point-In-Time Count. Spokane’s first such census in 2006 counted 1,592 homeless.
Sheila Morley, a program coordinator for the city of Spokane’s Community, Housing and Human Services department, said it’s likely the chronically homeless number jumped because the people doing the counting were more successful reaching that population.
“I think we’ve done a lot in the past 12 months to increase engagement with the chronically homeless. I anticipated that number to increase and give us a truer number of that population,” she said.
On the other hand, targeted efforts to find shelter for homeless families and veterans are apparently working; both populations were down.
One Spokane program, for example, called Homeless Families Coordinated Assessment, continues to bring results as the city collaborates with charities to provide housing, clothing, food and health care. The number of homeless families dropped 4 percent last year, continuing a four-year trend representing a 47 percent aggregate drop since 2011.
The number of homeless veterans identified in the count fell 37 percent, which Morley attributes to programs that help connect veterans with help.
“We have worked hard to direct resources where they are needed most and provide assistance in a coordinated manner,” said Jerrie Allard, director of the city’s Community, Housing and Human Services department. “Those investments have helped us make gains with families and veterans, although we recognize there is still much work to do to end homelessness in Spokane.”
The goal of the countywide point-in-time count is to identify gaps in service that government officials and nonprofits need to address.
This year’s results will help guide homeless advocates and programs to “where we are going to need to put our resources next,” Morley said.