‘It felt like a privilege to hear somebody’s story’: Volunteers conduct 2023 Point-in-Time count of Spokane County homeless population | Saving Spokane
SPOKANE, Wash. – The 2023 Point-in-Time Count is underway around Spokane County, which is an annual snapshot of the region’s homeless population and is required for communities that receive federal funding for their homeless response.
Last year’s count showed there were 1,757 homeless individuals in Spokane Countywhich was a 13% increase since 2020’s count.
Groups of volunteers decked out in unmistakable bright green vests—170 of them, in fact—will be canvassing the county conducting surveys through Sunday of the region’s unsheltered population. The county’s sheltered population was counted on January 24.
“We’re going to have a complete census count of the entire county of those experiencing homelessness,” Daniel Ramos III said.
Ramos is a data analyst with the City of Spokane and one of the count’s organizers.
“We’re going to learn things about how many people are sheltered and unsheltered, we’re going to better understand what kind of vulnerabilities they have, we’re going to know how long they’ve been on the streets–for those who are unsheltered,” Ramos said.
Researchers aren’t just trying to find out how many people are living on the streets or in shelters, though: they want to know how and why they’re in that position.
Volunteers are tasked with asking questions beyond the demographic questions required by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), seeking to find out why someone believes they ended up homeless, if they have any physical or mental disabilities, if they’ve stayed in a shelter, what they’d like to see added to the region’s shelter and resource systems, amongst others.
“All in an effort to end homelessness and ensure that it’s rare, brief and nonrecurring,” Ramos said.
“That just gives us a bigger picture, right?” said Emyrsen Price. “It gives us ways to develop better resources to help people better.”
Price is a nursing student at Washington State University, and said she didn’t know what to expect when she signed up to volunteer, but her experience on Wednesday broadened her perspective and will better inform how she cares for her future patients.
“It felt like a privilege to hear somebody’s story, even if it’s just a snippet,” Price said. “When somebody comes for help, we can’t assume we know the whole story. We can’t let biases affect the way we care for people, and that should be our perspective day to day as well.”
Ramos said he and his team will spend the next several weeks after the count wraps up poring over the data collected by volunteers, and hopes to have an official count at the end of April.
Then in the summer, Ramos and his team will present what he called a “story map” of the data, putting the information in an easy to digest way for the community and providers to better inform how and what services are delivered to them region’s homeless individuals.
Researchers did the same thing after the 2022 Point-in-Time Count, presenting their findings in July at the Spokane Central Library in Downtown Spokane.
“This snapshot is going to tell us how well we’ve done, and to what degree what work is left,” Ramos said.
For more information on the 2023 Point-in-Time Count, visit the city’s website by clicking here.