Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Counting the Uncounted

Gurldogg is one of the 700 volunteers who will be out on streets on the early morning of January 25th in an attempt to count the number of homeless people sleeping outside in King County. Since 1980, the local non-profit Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) has organized the annual One Night Count in order to establish the actual number of homeless individuals and families who are sleeping unsheltered. On the same night, the King County Department of Community Services coordinates a survey of all homeless people utilizing shelters and transitional housing, to capture the number of all people using overnight services.

The numbers can vary from year to year for any number of reasons, but usually hover around the 10,000 mark. That is, on any given sub-freezing January night, there are about 10,000 people sleeping unsheltered in King County. Being part of the Count, and attaching human beings to the often abstract statistics surrounding homelessness, is a profound experience.

Tim Harris of Real Change newspaper is one of the most consistently eloquent advocates for the rights of homeless people in our city. He has a new blog posting referencing the count and urging Seattle residents to attend a public hearing on January 28 against new City of Seattle regulations which would further de-humanize the people in the most dire need of help. From Tim:

“It is unacceptable to allow the work of ending homelessness to be confused with the systematic practice of eradicating the evidence. By harassing homeless campers out of the city, we only deepen their misery and decrease the odds that they will ever find the services they need. This week, Seattle will hold the Annual One Night Homeless Count. More than 700 volunteers will fan out through the city in the middle of the night to assess whether we’re winning or losing the war. By turning the fight against homelessness into an attack upon the homeless themselves, the Mayor has undermined the integrity of the longest-running, most sophisticated homeless count effort in the nation.This is profoundly sad. And sadder still if he gets away with it.”

This blog entry from 2007 gives a summary of last year's Count, and a passionate explanation of why it matters.

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