A big day for homeless services

Some 1,500 people will have a chance to receive help from a variety of resources at once. It's something on the cold nights when volunteers try to count those without shelter.
Camping in Seattle during the summer, when living homeless is easier.

Camping in Seattle during the summer, when living homeless is easier. mikecogh (Michael Coghlan)/Flickr

On Thursday, the United Way of King County will hold its annual Community Resource Exchange (CRE) to provide thousands of homeless individuals and families the services and benefits they need, all in one place, on one day. Volunteers will be on hand to help  secure temporary housing, sign people up for veteran or public benefits, provide employment counseling and access to medical and dental care, set up voicemail accounts, give haircuts and more.

Thursday’s program is also an opportunity to identify the homeless — a point of entry for those who may need help signing up for services. Some who will stop by are not yet homeless, but are living on the edge and just need help.

The gathering starts at 9:45 a.m. at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. A note I received about the United Way event immediately reminded me of a short essay I wrote back in 2006 immediately after I volunteered in another annual event related to homelessness, the King County One Night Homeless Count, a street and shelter survey of the homeless in our area. In those days I worked with Rep. Ruth Kagi and others on statewide advocacy to reduce family homelessness.

I dusted off the forgotten recollection, and updated it a little in hopes that it might shed some further light on this week’s Community Resource Exchange.

* * * * *

At 3 a.m. on a dark street in Seattle, I waved to a tall, rangy man in jeans and a knit cap, but kept a watchful distance in the quiet, deserted South Lake Union neighborhood. My friendly wave provoked the man to clear his throat and ask, “What are you doing on the streets this time of night?”

“We’re doing a homeless count,” I said, recognizing immediately how over-eager this must have sounded.

“Did you count yourself?” he responded.

It did occur to me that I, too, was in jeans and a knit cap and appeared a little rangy.

“What do you think the homeless look like?” he said, continuing on his way.

It’s a provocative question. In Bruce Almighty, the movie starring Jim Carey, the homeless man who persistently finds his way into the camera shot turns out to be a personification of God (played by Morgan Freeman). In our area, the homeless are young and old, living alone and living in families.

One morning each year, a few hundred volunteers gather for the annual One Night Street Count at the Seattle King County Coalition for the Homeless. The count, which began in 2000, includes two parts: a street count of the unsheltered and a survey of the homeless who are staying in shelters and transitional housing. The year I participated was the first year the count took place in January. In earlier years it has been held in October, but in 2006 the federal government mandated that all counts be coordinated so that they take place on the same night across the country.

The morning I counted the total street tally was 1,946 in King County, a slight decline from the previous count in 2004.

According to the United Way, the one-night count of people sleeping on the street increased between 2006 and 2009, but then declined 9 percent over the past three years. This has been one of the United Way’s goals in King County. In 2012 the sheltered homeless number was 6,236 and the unsheltered (street) count was 2,514.

To be sure, the street count and survey are imprecise. The goal is to enlist as many people as possible to walk the city streets and call the shelters in order to get the best census possible on a given night. The count helps those concerned about the homeless understand the population better, and many government programs for the homeless are based on the count. The count may not be scientific, but it is the best method available, and from an advocacy perspective it has a way of engaging volunteers in the problem.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Oct 18, 7:07 p.m. Inappropriate

It says a lot that the friend of the author who lives in the north end of the CD hadn't noticed or paid attention to what goes on around him. Same thing goes in my neighborhood. Yet in my case, we have neighbors who think that everyone who is homeless is somehow a victim. Wrong. Many of them enjoy, yes, enjoy breaking into and squatting in all the foreclosed and vacant houses in the winter, and camping out near Camp Long and a long Longfellow Creek during the summer. They do their 'metal salvaging' otherwise known as thievery and burglary, for meth money and then party on, create a lot of havoc and damage and then roll into the West Seattle Food Bank to get free grub. Oh yeah, lets not forget the crap they pull on Metro, never paying as they roll around the city.

Until the supposedly smart and savvy people of Seattle get some actual street-smarts and realize that by constantly handing out food, 'services' or whatnot to everyone who claims to be 'homeless' we are harming and taking away from the people who truly do need help. Those being the elderly, the disabled, the TRULY mentally ill. Not the lazy, carefree losers that suck off the system at all of our expense. We are becoming a magnet for these type of people because word gets around quick that Seattle is a great place to get three meals a day for free and a whole bunch of other goodies. That is the fact people, just start chatting it up with the hangers-on outside of Harborview or down at 3 and Pike.

I routinely see a Vietnamese woman wandering around downtown at all hours. She is painfully disfigured in her facial area. Do I see her panhandling and harassing tax paying citizens who are just trying to get home from work or do an errand downtown? No, I don't, because she is to busy collecting aluminum cans from the recycle bins, curbs and sidewalks. She stores bags all over the city and then takes them in for cash. She actually appears to have drive and a mission and goal for each day. In other words, she manages to do something worthwhile to better herself instead of being a friggin' leach and giving nothing back to society. I have seen other people of Asian descent doing the same. Interesting that I see virtually no Asian people panhandling, it is almost always white or black dudes. WTF is that all about?

DID

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