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June 27, 2022

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Legislation aims for more accurate count of homeless

Current numbers omit people in jails and hospitals

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Each January, agencies and nonprofits work together to conduct a single-day census of homeless individuals. Better known as the Point in Time count, the data collection is required by both the state Department of Commerce and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But state Sen. Lynda Wilson says those counts are incomplete because they leave out individuals in jails and hospitals who were homeless before entering those facilities.

Wilson is working to fix this by sponsoring Senate Bill 5607, which would require such individuals to be included in the state census. The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. John Braun, Bob Hasegaw, Christine Rolfes, Lisa Wellman and Jeff Wilson.

The bill had its first hearing before the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

“Year after year, (homelessness) becomes more prominent. Washington state has spent billions of dollars during the past decade trying to reduce homelessness, only to see the problem growing worse, especially with the number of homeless living on the street,” Lynda Wilson said during the committee meeting.

She said Washington is now only second to California in its number of unsheltered homeless individuals.

“While the rest of the country has been in a decline in chronic homelessness, in Washington, we’ve seen an explosion — and it’s outpacing even California,” Wilson said.

She called the Point in Time count a valiant effort to gather the numbers but said, “They’re greatly understated from actual numbers.”

As an example, Wilson said the 2020 count in Thurston County showed 995 people in the official count. However, there were 242 individuals in jail and another 120 in hospitals who should have been included, she said.

“That’s nearly 40 percent of the official count,” she said.

Wilson also noted that including these individuals in the official count would help the state better understand which institutions are “bearing the brunt” of the homelessness crisis.

The bill is scheduled to be heard again during executive session before the Senate committee on Tuesday.

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