An annual count of people experiencing homelessness in Clark County showed a 21% increase over 2018’s numbers, count facilitators announced earlier this month.
The Council for the Homeless, a Clark County resource and advocacy group, announced the findings of their 2019 Point in Time count May 17, stating they counted a total of 958 people experiencing homelessness during their one-day outreach Jan. 24. There were a greater number of individuals counted as “unsheltered” or sleeping in tents, cars, on streets or places otherwise not meant for people to sleep at 30% over 2018’s numbers, though the number of individuals who were “sheltered” or sleeping in transitional or emergency housing increased by 12% over last year as well.
In January the Council for the Homeless Executive Director Kate Budd spoke to The Reflector, explaining that alongside groups of volunteer counters in urban Vancouver the outreach also covered the Interstate 5 corridor including the Gee Creek Rest Area and also had a presence in downtown Battle Ground and Ridgefield.
Outside of the count, the Council for the Homeless’ announcement noted that through 2018 it identified more than 4,700 people representing more than 3,100 households experiencing homelessness.
Alongside the announcement, Budd provided analysis in a blog post on their website. She noted that in one year rents in Clark County grew by 8.3% which she said was “greatly outpacing employment wages,” leading to rents making up a greater percentage of income.
“Research shows that homelessness increases in communities where rents grow faster than incomes,” Budd wrote.
Those increasing costs were especially hard for seniors and people with disabilities — Budd’s post stated that in last year’s Point in Time count more than half of those unsheltered identified as having a disability.
Though the numbers of homeless were increasing, Budd wrote that community efforts were helping. She pointed to Clark County Rapid Re-housing programs, writing they had an 84% success rate with households exiting the program into “safe and stable” housing, with 86% of people not returning to the homelessness cycle.
The programs, while successful, were not large enough to help everyone who needs it, Budd wrote. She stated the long-term solution would be increasing housing stabilization programs while also addressing housing affordability.
Budd listed three specific investments that included the housing stabilization programs and affordable housing (including incentivizing its development) as well as mixed-income housing through zoning and land use policies.
“The community needs to remain focused on the outcome of moving people from unhoused to being housed in a permanent living situation,” Budd wrote. “Otherwise we will miss the mark and keep striking out on reducing homelessness.”