Volunteers are now gearing up to reach those living outside, in vehicles, abandoned buildings, RVs, and boats to resume the Kitsap point-in-time count to survey homeless individuals in the county.
The annual survey was canceled in 2021, and the count was delayed by a month this year due to the omicron COVID-19 variant. The outreach effort will be on the morning of February 24, said Anton Preisinger, director of Northwest Hospitality. Northwest Hospitality is leading the effort this year with the support of Kitsap County. The county is the responsible agency for the count, said Kirsten Jewell, Kitsap County Housing and Homelessness Division manager.
There are 113 locations in Kitsap overall that volunteers will visit to find individuals without permanent housing to survey, primarily between the hours of 6 and 10 a.m.
There are six locations on Bainbridge Island, 44 in Bremerton, 22 in Central Kitsap, 20 in North Kitsap, and 21 locations in South Kitsap. These also include food banks and meal sites which volunteers will visit to survey those who may be living on the street. Shelters aren’t surveyed because they report their numbers through a database directly to Housing and Urban Development.
When volunteers find people to survey they’re asked questions like gender, race, age, and where they slept Wednesday night. They’re also asked how long they’ve been without stable housing, whether their household has children or only adults, and the area where their last permanent residence was.
Other questions include whether they have disabilities, are fleeing domestic violence, if they’re veterans, and what circumstances may have led to their current housing status. This could be things like loss of job or housing or people who were just released from the hospital or criminal justice system.
They’re then asked if they’ve completed the count in the past, how many times they’ve used ambulances, paramedics or been to emergency room or received mental health care while unhoused, what their biggest challenge is to housing, if they have requested housing assistance in Kitsap and what reasons they have for not receiving it, and if not, why they haven’t asked for help.
They’re also asked whether they’ve tried to get housed in other counties, how long they’ve been in Kitsap, what brought them to Kitsap, and what situation would best fit their immediate needs.
This year, there will also be a question about pets and whether that animal has impacted their ability to access resources. The same form is tweaked a bit each year, Jewell said.
The hope is to get around 150 volunteers for the count, and more are currently needed. Depending how willing the person is to answer, the questionnaire can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 15 minutes, Preisinger said.
“It’s far from a perfect system,” Preisinger said. “It’s volunteer-based and we’re trying to catch as many people as we can in a snapshot of the county. The numbers we collect are used to inform local state and federal funding agencies of where they should direct resources in the future.”
Typically the count is conducted by Kitsap County using volunteers. This year COVID-19 funding responsibilities have made it more difficult for the county to do the count, so Hospitality Northwest was contracted.
“Northwest Hospitality is a logical partner because they’re already doing a lot of outreach,” Jewell said.
Masks are being provided for all of the surveyors this year, Jewell said. In the past there have been about 120 volunteers working on the project.
In addition to volunteers, the Department of Social and Health Services employees work on it as part of their job.
“It’s quite a large community effort,” Jewell said.
Data is un-duplicated across the county in case people were counted more than once, then it’s submitted to the Washington State Department of Commerce. The data is un-duplicated at the state level in case people were counted in more than one county, then submitted to the federal government. It’s used to determine how much funding states are eligible for to address homelessness, Jewell said.
“We know it’s an undercount,” Jewell said it’s at least two and a half times lower than reality.
“The survey relies on us finding people and people being willing to take our survey,” she said. “It’s an imperfect way but it is one way we get a window into who is experiencing homelessness in a 24-hour period.”
For information on how to volunteer with the point-in-time count, contact Northwest Hospitality at https://www.nwhospitality.org. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old to participated.