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Amato: Not even the homeless believe King County’s homeless count

(Tom Amato, KTTH)

Last month, Count Us In released its 2019 homeless count, which showed a decrease in homelessness for the first time since 2012. It was reported there were 5,971 people sheltered and 5,228 people unsheltered. Those numbers have come into question, however, and now, a couple of people close to the situation are saying those figures are way too low.

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I spoke to a pair of homeless people at a camp located under the I-5 ramp in the University District on a myriad of issues, one of them being the recent homeless count. One man, who told me he recently accepted housing, said the county’s figures are inaccurate.

“They don’t know what they’re doing,” the man said.

He also said the method Count Us In uses is flawed. He said he saw the people who were doing the count.

“I said, ‘every time you do the count, you don’t get people because you do the counting wrong,’” he said. “I showed the people who were doing the count where everyone was and they still didn’t do it right.”

The man said the counters won’t go up to a tent and ask how many are in it. He estimated about 5,000 more homeless people than were counted.

“I said, ‘You guys come up with these weird numbers,’” he said. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”

One woman I spoke with agreed that the county’s numbers were off.

“They never do it right,” she said. “A lot of people are hiding … they’re sweeping us all over the place.”

Others calling the count inaccurate include King County Councilwoman Jeane Kohl-Wells and Seattle Councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez.

“Some things that were found, almost defy common sense,” Kohl-Wells said in an early June hearing regarding the count.

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Even the company that does the count has admitted to its flaws.

“I point out every time that this particular effort has its limitations — particularly the data points you are asking about here really depend on the survey responses. This is information that can’t be captured through observation only,” said Kira Zylstra, the Executive Director of All Home. All Home is the agency that conducts the one night Point in Time Count.

Conversely, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has gone on record to use the results to applaud the city’s work combating homelessness.

“This new one-night count shows that our work and data-driven investments over the last year to prevent and address homelessness is having an impact,” Durkan said in a recent news release.

The Point in Time count only reflects a snapshot of homelessness on one specific night. In 2018, the point in time count was 12,112, but over that same year, the county’s Homeless Management Information System counted 22,500 households accessing homelessness services.

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