By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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With more time, said Kathy Wahto, executive director of Serenity House of Clallam County, volunteers will be able to get out to homeless encampments in the rural areas of the county.
“We're going to have more time to drive out to county parks and to state parks and to places where the homeless actually are,” Wahto said.
“Those are hard things to do with a one-day look. If you go out there in the day, you're not going to find people.”
Port Angeles-based Serenity House and East Jefferson County-based Olympic Community Action Programs will begin the annual Point in Time Count next week.
Kathy Morgan, organizer of the homeless count for OlyCAP, said the multiday census Jefferson County has used for years makes it easier to find homeless people in rural areas.
“We're such a small, rural county that a more thorough count has helped us find more people permanent housing,” Morgan said.
The nationwide annual Point in Time Count gathers community numbers of those without safe places to live.
Data from the Point in Time Count are used to help local agencies draw in state and federal funding for programs to provide alternatives for the homeless.
The annual count will begin Jan. 21 and run through the end of the month.
This year's count also will be the beginning of a new program to focuses on identifying homeless youth.
Wahto said Clallam County was tabbed as one of nine communities in the nation that will participate in a program that will focus on serving homeless people up to 24 years old.
“It's just really hard to count that population,” she said.
“It's such a huge at-risk population. And if we really want to do something about improving grad rates and giving someone a better future, this is where we're going to have to start.”
The count, she said, is the first step in developing programs for youth that will be able to reduce young homeless in much the same way adult programs have worked.
“You really can't start developing solutions until you have real data to go with,” Wahto said.
Morgan noted difficulties in finding homeless youth.
“They don't show up in the typical places within our system,” Morgan said. “Instead of using shelters, they tend to turn to couch surfing.”
Wahto also noted the difficulty in finding shelter for homeless youth.
“Our homeless programs almost always serve adult because we can't legally do anything else,” Wahto said. “We can't provide housing for someone who's under 18 because you have to have parental permission in place.”
For homeless youth who often have estranged relationships with their parents, the need for parental contact often prevents them from seeking help, Morgan said.
“There's concern,” she said. “They're on the street, and they may feel they have their own destiny in their hands and that seeking help may take that away from them.”
Clallam County last year saw an increase in the number of people living on the street, in their cars, in tents or campgrounds or squatting in abandoned buildings.
The count in 2012 turned up 79 people living on the street, an uptick from the 65 people identified in 2011 but still lower than the 100 people counted living on the street in 2006.
In 2006, the Clallam County Point in Time count found 199 people living without shelter.
OlyCAP counted 89 homeless in East Jefferson County in 2012. That was a steep drop from the 139 counted in 2011 and the 187 counted in 2010.
“And if our count at our homeless shelters is any indication, we should be even further down this year,” Morgan said.
Last year, the winter shelter at the American Legion hall at Water and Monroe streets had around 40 occupants at this time, Morgan said.
Last Friday, there were 27 people using the shelter.
“We were really anticipating an increase because Kitsap County closed a number of their shelters,” Morgan said.
But that influx never materialized.
Morgan said the number should be even lower because her agency found permanent housing for 23 homeless people over the summer.
She noted that state and federal grants, for which the Point in Time provides vital data, funded those housing efforts.
The number of homeless people counted in Jefferson County was 203 in 2009.
The drop in the number was after a spike documented in 2008, when 316 homeless were counted in Jefferson County, up from 250 in 2007.
Before that, the number had slowly risen, with 187 counted in 2006 and 170 in 2005.
For more information or to volunteer in Clallam, contact Serenity House in Port Angeles 360-452-7224 or West End Outreach Services in Forks at 360-384-5011.
For information about the Jefferson County count, contact OlyCAP at 360-385-2571.
Reporter Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5056, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.