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79 classified as homeless, 29 unsheltered, in San Juan County in latest count

Seventy-nine people were recognized as homeless in this year’s Count of Homeless Persons in San Juan County.

Among the homeless, 29 were classified as unsheltered — living in tents, cars, boats (not equipped with facilities for living aboard) or staying in motels (with money from churches, etc.).

Fifty people, including many children, were staying in temporary, unstable living arrangements either with friends or family members – a situation commonly referred to as “couch surfing.”

The state-required count was conducted by the county Health and Community Services Department on Jan. 28.

Count organizers had anticipated an increase in the number of homeless people in the county due to the worldwide economic crisis and significant local business closures, but the count remained close to last year’s numbers.

Last year’s count found 23 people unsheltered and 50 “couch surfing,” a significant increase over the 2008 count which reported only nine unsheltered and 17 “couch surfing.” Similarly, in 2007, 11 were reported unsheltered and 17 “couch surfing.”

Citing an extensive effort in 2006 which identified 50 homeless people, organizers say the increased numbers reported since 2009 could be a result of the amount of effort that has been put into the count since 2009, rather than an actual increase in the overall number of homeless people.

Organizers say these numbers are an estimate at best; it is impossible to truly know the exact number of homeless people and those staying with friends or family in unstable situations. However, based on this year’s results and information from churches, food banks and other organizations that help the homeless, organizers see no sign that the problem is decreasing.

San Juan County count organizers and volunteers worked with local schools, food banks, churches, healthcare providers, support service counselors, youth groups, senior centers, family resource centers, Sheriff’s Department, fire and EMS departments and community organizations to perform this year’s count.

The count was established by the state Legislature in 2005 in the Homelessness Housing and Assistance Act (RCW 43.185c). The goal of the Act is to reduce homelessness in our state by 50 percent by 2015.

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