The One Night Count Happened, And Now We Wait… And Wait

Last Friday morning, Seattle and King County did its annual “One Night Count” of homeless people living here. A lot changed from last year in the way they performed the count, which partially explains why you haven’t heard a result yet. Here’s what the City Council was told about it last week.

The one-night count, or as it is being called this year “Count Me In,” is mandated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. All Home, the local lead agency for receiving funds from the federal Continuum of Care program, is responsible for carrying out the count here. 700 volunteers were recruited, and 11 training sessions were conducted to get them all ready.

Here are the major things that changed:

  • All Home partnered with a different organization to conduct and tally the survey: Applied Survey Research, which does counts in several cities on the west coast.
  • They hired 140 “guides” to accompany street count teams. Guides are people who either currently or recently experienced homelessness and have “lived-in experience” in the area being surveyed — the notion being that they can help the survey teams be more effective in finding all of the homeless people living in an area. The guides were paid $15 per hour for their work.
  • They shifted from a “hotspot count” model to a full enumeration.
  • They changed their methodology in several ways. They are attempting to cover more areas. They also had special strategies for counting people living in buses, vehicles encampments, shelters, and hospitals.
  • They are integrating a count of homeless youth as well.
  • In addition to the raw count, they are also doing a more comprehensive survey of a sample of homeless people in order to get much deeper, more insightful information and context.
  • They are using different data collection tools.

Because of all this, it’s basically impossible to compare the numbers they come up with this year to past years. So we need to think about the results as creating a new baseline from which we can make comparisons in future years. That will no doubt be disappointing to many people, especially in the middle of a major transition to a new approach to responding to the homeless crisis.

Because the data being collected is richer and more comprehensive, they couldn’t turn it around in a morning. In fact, their plan is to release a full report in June instead. So we will need to wait a long time before we hear any results.

Here’s a link to their presentation last week (prior to the Friday morning count). And Real Change recently took a look at the one-night count — and its limitations.