Humboldt Homelessness Dips Slightly

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The county’s Housing and Homelessness Coalition has released its 2013 “Point-in-Time” count of homeless persons and the total number has dropped by 47.

The coalition’s counting and surveying of homeless people was updated at the Jan. 7 Board of Supervisors meeting. The once-every-two-years count was done countywide in January 2013 and totalled 1,579 people.

That is down from the 1,626 people counted in 2011, although the percentage of homeless under the age of 20 rose from eight percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2013. Simone Taylor, the coalition’s co-chair, said enhanced collaboration with school districts and the participation of youth volunteers from the RAVEN Project street outreach program likely resulted in more thorough enumeration.

According to the coalition’s report on the effort, 37 homeless students were counted in the Northern Humboldt Unified School District. In the report, homelessness is defined as living on the street, in a tent, a vehicle or other “unsheltered” environments.

Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said he’s noticed improvements in the data collection and said the drop in numbers is a “good sign.” He also acknowledged the McKinleyville Family Resource Center’s emergency shelter this winter.

“This is the first winter that they’ve had an emergency shelter open – it was a lot of work to get it open and it’s starting slow but at least it’s there,” he said.

Sundberg added that the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee is collaborating with the county on “vetting ideas” for addressing homelessness issues and they’ll soon be made public.

Of the county’s locales, Arcata saw a drop in numbers counted, from about 300 in 2011 to 200 in 2013. Eureka had the highest numbers, with about 650 counted, which is down from the 1,000 counted in 2011. Southern Humboldt saw an increase, as 2013’s tally was 200 people, up from the 50 counted in 2011.

Coalition members acknowledged that collecting information in the field is a challenging task. Sundberg asked Barbara LaHie, the assistant director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, how accurately the count reflects the extent of homelessness.

“I think there’s no way of knowing who we don’t count,” she responded, adding that homeless camps tend to move and new ones emerge that the coalition isn’t aware of when doing counts.

Homeless people were also asked a variety of questions during the count, which took place over a six-day period and asked respondents where they slept the night of Jan. 28.

The survey included questions about residency and 300 people said they’ve been living in the county for 10 years or more. Six hundred said they’ve been residents for at a year and over 500 said they’d become homeless in Humboldt County.

Karen “Fox” Olson, the coalition’s co-chair, said the reliability of the survey data can be improved with more extensive training of volunteers and, possibly, more technologically-oriented methods of collecting information.

“We have to make sure than people who are going out really understand that all of the fields have to filled in,” she said, adding that information collected through the county’s Office of Education involved use of i-phones and “the people collecting the information were younger and hipper” on use of devices.

Electronically-implemented surveys would highlight the presence of blank fields, Olson continued.

The coalition also updated its Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. Since 2004, the coalition has gotten $4.6 million in state funding, with permanent and transitional housing accounting for most of it.

The coalition is made up of governmental and non-profit agencies that provide services related to homelessness. The point in time count is required by the state’s Department of Housing and Urban Development and the county’s Ten-Year Plan is one of 243 in the U.S.

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