With the homeless hard to quantify and funding to help them harder still to come by, Community Action of Skagit County assembled volunteers Thursday to conduct its annual Point-in-Time Count.
The data these 30 or so volunteers collect is sent to the federal government for analysis, and funding for homeless programs is based on the results.
Volunteers conducted surveys of the homeless during lunch service Thursday at Friendship House. The volunteers tried to get a count of the homeless and to determine the causes of chronic homelessness.
Tara Holmes said she has been living in her car with her sister and three dogs since the week before Thanksgiving, when they were told to vacate the park where their travel trailer was parked.
Holmes works at Goodwill, but her income isn’t enough to rent in a market that’s been expensive even for many middle-class families.
The sisters came last May from Arizona, where they were living on the street.
“We figured we had a better chance of surviving up here,” Holmes said. “But we haven’t.”
The stress of living out of her car and caring for her pets leaves Holmes stressed and irritable. She sometimes fights with her sister and never gets a good night’s sleep.
“With all the stress ... I barely sleep,” she said. “And then l have to go into work the next day and be positive.
“Some days are better than others, but most of them are bad.”
Like Holmes, 42 percent of those who use Community Action, said Shelley Kjos, housing program manager with Community Action.
Volunteers ask participants where they are sleeping, the circumstances that led to their being homeless and if they’re receiving government benefits.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of who qualifies as chronically homeless has narrowed in recent years. Now, one must be living on the street for a year in the last three to qualify.
Those who stay with friends or double up in apartments are not considered homeless by HUD, she said.
“It’s the thinnest definition of homeless we’ve ever had,” said Joan Penney, second-year Point in Time Count volunteer and affordable housing advocate.
Penney spent Thursday surveying people near the Safeway in Mount Vernon and at Friendship House.
Kjos said the group’s deadline to submit data is the end of February, and that it expects the final data from the federal government a few months after that.
“We don’t usually have good data until spring,” she said.