Homeless encampment in wooded area in Auburn on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing

Homeless encampment in wooded area in Auburn on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing

King County to skip annual homeless count again, citing faulty methodology

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority said the count is inaccurate and “harmful.”

The annual Point In Time Count, which King County conducts to assess the amount of people in the region experiencing homelessness, is being skipped for the second year in a row as the King County Regional Homelessness Authority cites the practice’s faulty methodology.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a Point In Time Count of people living unsheltered to be conducted every two years in order to receive federal funding. King County received a federal waiver for the January 2021 unsheltered PIT Count because of COVID.

In January 2022, the count will be skipped again because the King County Regional Homelessness Authority believes the methodology of the count brings an inaccurate quantification of the amount of homeless individuals that can be “harmful in skewing the narrative and limiting the budget and resources dedicated to solutions.”

The Point In Time Count relies on volunteers to spread out across the county on one night in January and hand count the number of people that they physically see living unsheltered, multiplied by a number that’s meant to estimate the people they didn’t see, such as individuals living in abandoned buildings and in wooded areas. This total is then added to the number of sheltered people reported in surveys of shelter providers and in the Homeless Management Information System.

King County Regional Homeless Authority said in a written statement that because it relies on what volunteers see during a few hours in the early morning, in a neighborhood that may be unfamiliar to them, recorded on a paper tally sheet, at a time when there could be heavy rain or cold weather, there are many ways for data to be flawed.

The last PIT Count in January 2020 found 11,751 people experiencing homelessness in King County — 53% sheltered and 47% unsheltered — and the 2020 Census found 15,419 people living in “other non-institutional facilities,” which includes both sheltered and unsheltered.

King County Regional Homelessness Authority believes the actual number of homeless people in the region to be much larger.

According to a King County Department of Community and Human Services report advocating for an integrated data systems approach to counting the homeless, it is estimated that about 40,800 people in 2020 and 45,300 people in 2019 experienced homelessness at some point in the year.

King County Regional Homelessness Authority is working with data partners to explore other ways of collecting a more accurate number of people experiencing homelessness, including development of a “By Name List.” In the meantime, the agency says it will collect qualitative data from homeless individuals enrolled in their services and system to assess their needs.

The data collection will include surveys, interviews and focus groups and will take place over multiple months to increase participation.

“Together with our qualitative information, we will have a much clearer picture of who is living homeless, where they are and what they need,” according to a KCRHA written statement. “Which will allow us to advocate for solutions at the right size and scale to make a difference.”


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