Thurston County Homeless Census

In the 2012 Homeless Census, there were 724 documented homeless individuals, which is a 64 percent rise since the 441 baseline numbers of 2006. Although, it is a 26 percent drop from 2010’s high of 976 homeless individuals.

The Thurston County Homeless Census was conducted in late Jan. 2013 to gather information on the local homeless community. According to Olympia’s Housing Program Manager Anna Schlecht, the Homeless Census is conducted to evaluate the progress on the Thurston County ten-year plan to reduce homelessness by half.

Homelessness appears in higher education surveys as well. According to the 2012 survey of students conducted by The Evergreen State College, 11 percent of students reported being homeless, with another 15 percent reporting being at risk for homelessness.

According to Schlecht, the results of the Homeless Census will be finalized on March 1. She said that in order to gain new perspective on the issue of homelessness, it is crucial for college students to attend the annual forum that will be held to discuss the results after they are published.

Schlecht said that there are also internship and volunteer opportunities to engage in the issues of homelessness and the community. She said it takes a village to respond to homelessness.

“We are looking to young people to come up with a better way of organizing our society to ensure we don’t have homeless people,” said Schlecht. “[This] generation is going to help solve problems that our generation couldn’t get right.”

According to Schlecht, this is the first year with a formal public event connected with the Homeless Census, and the event was a homeless resource fair called Homeless Connect. She said food, clothing, connection with housing, mental health, veteran’s services, as well as haircuts and medical services were all offered. She said that it was similar to a full service community center, and that these services are critically needed for those who do not have homes, medical insurance, or the basic survival resources that other people in society have.

Schlecht said that social services, the business community, faith community, health department, fire department and police department all worked together on Homeless Connect this year. She said that 80 percent of the census numbers come from agencies that offer shelter and transitional housing.

According to Schlecht, Homeless Connect was held to connect those in need with services as well as gather information from attendees for the 2013 Homeless Census. Homeless Connect was held in lieu of the Street Census used in the past, in which volunteers would go to camps and throughout downtown Olympia looking for unsheltered homeless individuals.

According to Schlecht the Street Census was discontinued due to the difficulties of finding individuals, due to violent incidents that have occurred at homeless camps as of late, and due to the risks of guard dogs at camps. Homeless Connect would not only draw individuals to the census, but also allow them to get the services offered, said Schlecht.

One such service was Capital Recovery Center. Elizabeth Jetton, a staff member at Capital Recovery Center who attended Homeless Connect, said that Capital Recovery Center offers peer support mental health services. All staff, interns, and volunteers have gone through mental health recovery, or someone close to them has, said Jetton. According to Jetton, Capital Recovery Center has a program called Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, (PATH) which helps homeless individuals and those at risk for homelessness, transition to healthy housing situations.

Jetton said Capital Recovery Center also runs the Downtown Ambassador program in Olympia. The Downtown Ambassadors help mediate between homeless individuals and the community downtown when there are issues. She said the Ambassadors also do other services, such as a downtown clean up crew. The Ambassadors also help homeless individuals get resource guidance and a support network, said Jetton.

Another service provided was animal care and supplies from Covenant Creatures. Leanne Johnson, the program director and founder of Covenant Creatures, said that they offer basic supplies as well as veterinarian assistance. She said that if a veterinarian finds an animal needs immediate attention, Covenant Creatures will pay for a visit to a clinic if they have enough funding. Johnson said Covenant Creatures attended Homeless Connect since many of their clients are homeless.

The Salvation Army is one service center that provides food and shelter for homeless individuals in Olympia. James, a man who was eating lunch at the Salvation Army at the day of Homeless Connect, has been homeless for seven months. He
said it is very difficult to obtain simple documents that are needed to gain employment.

“You need IDs and social security cards to get jobs. After being homeless for so long, we don’t have those things anymore, and it costs money to get them,” said James.

James also said there is discrimination against the homeless community. “I make a point to try and dress well so that I don’t get discriminated against like the other homeless people do. That kind of discrimination is wrong.”

Timothy Page, a man who attended Homeless Connect to get dental care also had issues with identification, since it is needed to get care from many health clinics. Page has been homeless on and off for most of his life, and heard about Homeless Connect from the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Olympia.

According to Schlecht, the Thurston County Medical Reserve Corps partnered with Homeless Connect through the Health Department. Schlecht said The Medical Reserve Corps consists of health care volunteers.

According to Diana Yu, the medical director for the Medical Reserve Corps, the health care offered at Homeless Connect was vaccinations, vision screenings, dental screenings, and blood pressure checks.

Referrals to local sliding-scale and free clinics were also offered, such as Seamar Clinic, said Yu.
Yu said, “They need a hand up, not a hand out.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or interning can contact Schlecht at schlech@ci.olympia.wa.us for further information.

2012 Thurston County
Homeless Census Statistics:

-There were 20,336 documented homeless individuals in Washington state.
-There were 724 documented homeless individuals in Thurston County; 518 of those individuals were living in Olympia.
The top five reasons listed by census respondents were, in order:
-Family crisis/break up
-Primarily economic reasons
-Domestic violence
-Job loss
-Mental health
-188 of the respondents were under 18 years old
-153 of the respondents had mental illness as a self-reported disability
-A 2012 parallel census of Thurston County public schools reported 1,126 homeless students
-A 2012 survey of Evergreen State College students reported 11% of students being homeless, with another 15% being at risk for homelessness.