YAKIMA, Wash. — After a decade of work, the Homeless Network of Yakima County has nearly met its goal of cutting in half the number of homeless people in the county.
Since being established in 2004, the network of more than 40 organizations countywide has helped reduce homelessness by 44.5 percent by aggressively linking the homeless to services and shelters, which provide a stepping stone to permanent housing.
Tuesday, network officials shared the good news with Yakima County commissioners during their regular business meeting. Tim Sullivan, manager of the county’s housing and homeless program, handed commissioners results of the most recent Point In Time survey, an annual count of homeless people in Yakima County. The count was conducted Jan. 31.
According to the report, homelessness has shown another large decline, 12.6 percent over the past year. For the past two years alone, homelessness overall has dropped by 21 percent.
“So we’re seeing some success in seeing people moving on to self-sufficiency,” Sullivan told commissioners.
The network’s primary goal is to not only track homelessness, but to connect people to services and keep the various agencies, such as food banks, soup kitchens, churches and shelters, in touch with one another to better serve the homeless.
But the long-term goal is to get the homeless off the streets and into permanent homes, Sullivan said.
The report defines homeless people by two major categories: sheltered and unsheltered. Sheltered are homeless people who may be staying with family, friends or even at homeless shelters. Unsheltered refers to those living either in a car or on the streets.
According to the report, there were 785 homeless people overall in the county, 47 of them unsheltered.
Among the homeless, the largest group at 135 were those between 46 and 55 years old. The second largest group at 122 were those between 5 years and younger. But both those numbers had declined from the year before by 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
The number that isn’t going down is that of the chronic homeless — people with disabilities who have been homeless for more than year. There are roughly 80 countywide, accounting for about 10 percent of the overall homeless population.
Ellie Lambert, resource coordinator for Yakima County Human Services, said that number hasn’t gone down for a number or reasons. But the biggest reasons are some had a bad experience at a shelter and don’t feel safe there, while others may have a pet, such as a dog, which shelters don’t allow.
“So they’d rather sleep in the cold with their pets,” she said.
Lastly, many of them have a mental illness and cannot handle being in the large groups commonly found at a shelter.
“We need to identify some custom options to get them connected to resources that can help them,” Lambert said. “And that’s challenging if they won’t come in to get services. We don’t want people to be cold. We don’t want people to die of the cold.”
The report can be viewed at www.yakimahomeless.org.