Count Us In 2018
By Alex Strout, Intern, Equal Justice Coalition and MSW Candidate
Last month, on a cold night between 2a.m. and 6a.m., I joined more than a thousand volunteers in King County to participate in the annual Point In Time Count. Coordinated by All Home, the annual count determines the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in each of the 398 Census tracks in King County. Volunteers are assigned deployment sites throughout the county, divided into teams, paired with a paid guide with homelessness experience, and provided street maps of their tracks. Data compiled through the count is vital in securing adequate funds to combat the growing housing and homelessness crisis in King County.
My team’s deployment location, the Compass Center, became a staging ground for volunteers, guides, and organizers across the city. There, we met our guide Larry, got our two Census track maps and headed to South Seattle. Depending on the location, volunteers could walk or drive while counting those unsheltered. Our area was residential and quite large, so driving was our only way to canvass the whole area in four hours. After nearly a half hour, I quickly realized that we wouldn’t actually see anyone sleeping on the streets tonight. Unlike downtown or tent encampments, our track had little place for people to seek shelter. Instead, Larry continually pointed out cars and RVs that he suspected people were living in. The RVs, many times parked in front lawns, had electrical or sewage hookups and their curtains pulled closed. Cars with blankets blocking the windows and foggy glass on such a cold night were also indicators of those sleeping inside. In fact, by the time we were finished, we had counted nearly 15 cars or RVs in just one of our Census tracks.
As a strong supporter of legal aid, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these individuals were living unsheltered because of low-income people’s unequal access to justice. Wrongful evictions, job discrimination, or unfair LFOs all push people deeper into poverty, sometimes costing families their housing. Accessing civil legal aid can be difference between a family “making it” and a family unsheltered. This reminder is why I volunteered.
Alex Strout is a Master in Social Work Candidate at the University of Washington and intern at the Equal Justice Coalition where he supports communication and advocacy efforts for statewide investment in civil legal aid. While new to the civil legal aid community, Alex is passionate about housing justice and youth advocacy efforts. Prior to moving to Seattle for school, Alex worked for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Boys and Girls Club.