Annual One Night Count finds Montlake neighbors living without shelter

The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness conducted its annual One Night Count in the early morning hours last Friday, with volunteers reporting a total of 2,736 people sleeping outdoors — including 1,989 within the city limits of Seattle — a slight uptick over last year’s count.

Of the 800+ volunteers that spread across the region, a team of seven came to Montlake in search of people sleeping outdoors. The difficult task of finding people who may not want to be found is reflected in One Night Count’s method. The team’s goal wasn’t to scour every inch of the neighborhood or conduct a scientific poll, but rather to just get a rough estimate.

The team leader recently surveyed the neighborhood during the day to find likely areas to search, then returned with volunteers between 2-5am on Friday to confirm the count. A spotted tent was assumed to house two people, same with a vehicle showing signs of inhabitants inside. While several uncovered sleeping bags were found, they were only counted if they clearly had someone in them — a few did not.

During the count, volunteers remarked on the weather — about 40° with light drizzle — and how recent freezing temps must have been hard to survive. While wandering around familiar places made unfamiliar by the quiet dark, the team did its best to observe but not disturb people trying to sleep. One found camp had the last embers of a fire going. Another had a pit bull watching over things — thankfully tied to a post.

“The One Night Count is a humbling experience,” said Coalition Executive Director Alison Eisinger. “We are especially reminded that everyone should have a place to call home. The Count is a call to action each January — the beginning of a full year of education and action for all of us who care about this crisis.”

Spreading awareness about homelessness beyond just the numbers is a big part of the One Night Count. “So that people who don’t necessarily think about this issue on a daily or nightly basis have the opportunity to experience this,” Eisinger said. “And so that our elected officials and decision makers who come as guests on the One Night Count hold these images and the people who are experiencing homelessness squarely in their minds.” Of the hundreds of volunteers that participated were Seattle City Council President Sally Clark and other city staffers.

Seattle still has much work to do to complete its 2005 pledge to end homelessness in 10 years. Later Friday morning in front of City Hall, homeless advocates took turns ringing a gong 2,736 times, once for each person found overnight. Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness is collecting donations to fund their efforts, with matching funds doubling individual gifts through the end of February. Other ways to get involved, here.

For a deeper look at the 2013 One Night Count numbers, click here.

Another advocacy project continues over at Homeless in Seattle, which documents people living without shelter through their own personal stories and portraits — and providing human context to the issue of homelessness.

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