Pierce County’s Department of Community Services released the results of its 2009 Homeless Survey today.
The results show that on Jan. 29 and 30, 2,083 men, women and children identified themselves as being without permanent housing.
The total is up 19 percent over last year’s survey. That means an added 336 people, most of whom are living in transitional housing.
The number of families also is up by 111, or 43 percent, over 2008. Included in those families are 113 children, a rise of 21 percent.
The survey is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. By H.U.D.’s definition, people who sleep outside or in shelters or live in emergency or transitional housing are counted among the homeless.
The people who fan out through the county with brief questionnaires are the first to say that this survey is just a snapshot. They are missing families who are bunking with relatives, or living in recreational vehicles, cars and tents and trying not to be noticed. They are missing
teens and young people couch surfing with friends’ families. They are missing people in encampments who choose not to talk to them.
Of the 2,083 people they contacted, 748 were singles. That’s down 91 people, or 12 percent, from last year.
The majority of singles, 488, were men. About a third of the singles, 221 people, have been homeless more than once, or for more than a year. They’re among the chronic population that uses a disproportionate percentage of expensive resources.
The Housing First and Road Home programs have been working to get them settled in housing with counseling and services, and 166 of them were in some type of transitional housing. Most of the others, 313 people, regularly sleep in shelters.
The steep rise in the number of families counted was due to an efficiency in the survey, not the foreclosure debacle, said Rae Ann Giron, community services planner with the county’s community services housing program.
"We were able to capture 52 housing units we had not surveyed before," Giron said.
On top of that, 28 units that were still in development in 2008 were open and housing families in 2009. Together they accounted for 70 units.
"It takes a while for agencies to put the funds together for these programs," Giron said. "We are finally seeing an increase, but it’s due to work that began five years ago."
The survey showed an increase of 336 people overall. It also showed that 334 people were in the new or newly counted transitional units.
Federal, county and city governments use the data to determine which services are needed, which are working, and where to spend money.
For example, respondents answered questions about their income, and why they had become homeless.
Only 12 percent of the heads of household who responded said they had jobs. The rest had no income at all ore relied on Social Security, public assistance or the kindness of families and friends.
Asked about special problems, they cited physical disability, drugs and alcohol, a lost job, inability to pay the rent or mortgage, mental illness and domestic violence, in that order.