The tally will not be available until spring, but Clark County’s annual Point in Time count of homeless people in the area serves as an important reminder of the challenges facing our community.
Mandated by state law and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the census provides a snapshot of Clark County. Volunteers and officials fanned out Thursday across the region to locate those living without shelter and to record data about gender, age, veteran status and length of homelessness. The findings will be used to help distribute homeless assistance and try to pinpoint where money and services will do the most good.
The count is imperfect. For example, those using their own money to live out of a hotel will not be counted, while those using public assistance for a hotel residence will be included. As The Columbian reported, “It does not include people who are couch surfing, doubled up with family or friends, or homeless but incarcerated.”
Another glitch arose this year as city crews and contractors cleaned out the area near Share House the morning of the count. That location is a frequent campsite for homeless people, and dispersing them prior to the census made it more difficult to generate an accurate count, which homeless advocates say already typically undercounts the number of homeless people.
As we ponder the count of homeless residents and the need to balance services for those in need with the amenities required for a thriving, growing city, it is essential to view people as the individuals they are rather a homogeneous collective. Last year’s Clark County Point in Time count identified 795 people living without shelter. While it is human nature to lump those people into a single group or to assume they have similar backgrounds and needs, the causes and circumstances of homelessness are varied.