The number of homeless people in Spokane fell slightly in 2016, according to the results of a one-night count of homeless people released Wednesday by the city.
The count, conducted the night of Jan. 28, found 981 homeless people in Spokane, a 5 percent decrease from last year’s count of 1,034. The number of homeless households also fell to 759.
The data are cause for optimism, city officials said, but a one-night count is a limited tool for seeing if the number of homeless people in Spokane has changed.
“We want to see consistent reductions in that data year over year to really know what we’re doing is working,” said Jonathan Mallahan, director of the city’s Community and Neighborhood Services Division.
The number of homeless families in Spokane peaked in 2011 and has been declining every year since. This year’s count also showed the first small decrease in the number of chronically homeless people. That number grew from just 74 in the 2011 count to 198 last year before falling again to 158.
The trend for homeless people with severe mental illness has followed a similar pattern, growing from 2012 to 2015 before declining slightly to 240 people this year.
Black and American Indian people were overrepresented among homeless people who reported a race, making up about 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively, of the city’s homeless population. Both groups are about 2 percent of Spokane’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Multi-racial people were overrepresented as well, at about 8 percent of the homeless population.
Most people were counted at shelters, including emergency and transitional housing. But the number of unsheltered homeless people rose to 172, a 30 percent increase over last year’s count. They were sleeping outside, in vehicles or in other places not designed for overnight shelter.
Spokane’s emergency warming shelter wasn’t open the night of this year’s count because temperatures weren’t low enough. About 60 people were counted at that shelter in 2015, Mallahan said.
About one-fifth of the people counted were under age 18. That count likely understates the number of homeless children in Spokane, Mallahan said, because it doesn’t include people who are temporarily staying with friends or relatives but have no stable housing.
The report comes at a time when Seattle has declared a state of emergency over its growing homeless population. A count of unsheltered homeless people in King County found 4,505 sleeping in vehicles or outdoors, including 2,942 in Seattle. That’s a 19 percent increase over 2015, the report said, and doesn’t include anyone staying at a shelter.
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