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Homeless population rises in South King County

An astonishing increase in homelessness throughout South King County was seen during an annual One Night Count for the Homeless.

Federal Way volunteers, for the fourth year, participated in the count from 2 to 5 a.m. Jan. 30. The event is done county-wide and is coordinated by Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. It is used to gauge the effectiveness and allocation of funds for programs associated with the county's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

"(The numbers) do become the basis for dividing resources," said Joshua Okrent, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness volunteer media coordinator.

South King County saw a 68 percent increase in homelessness, according to the coalition. The increase may be attributed Seattle's recent efforts to dismantle homeless encampments, Okrent said. The economy is also a factor.

"People who had been close to homelessness before have been pushed over the edge," he said.

Kent experienced a 128-person increase this year. Federal Way saw 24 additional homeless people. In 2007, 106 were found in Federal Way. In 2008, 92 people were counted. This year, 116 were discovered in the city. It is hoped South King County's dramatic jump will be met with additional programs and resources, Okrent said.

Twenty-five men, two women and 89 gender unknown were found in Federal Way. Ten groups split up to perform the count. The objective was only to count the men and women, not to disturb or wake them. People were found in vehicles, under roadways and in alleys, in doorways and undergrowth, at bus stops and in structures including tents or handmade shelters.

"You're always hoping for less," said Manuela Ginnett, Multi-Service Center housing program director.

A police officer accompanied each group as they counted. Fourty-four people were tallied by one bunch. Many of them were found in structures. Each time a new camp was found, the officer announced the counters' presence, letting the homeless know their privacy was protected and the volunteers were there only for the one night count. Clusters of tents, used furniture, cooking devices and trash marked encampments.

Homeless were counted in Seattle, Kent, the Eastside, north end, White Center, Federal Way, Renton, Auburn and on late-running buses. A total of 2,826 homeless were identified. This is a 2 percent increase from what was seen in 2008, according to a summary by Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. Last year, 2,631 homeless were found. Overall, the increase is meager and could indicate the county's plan is working, Okrent said.

"It's essentially flat from last year. We took it as a positive sign," he said.

Check it out

Those interested in helping to end homelessness in King County are encouraged to participate Feb. 24 in a day-long housing and homelessness advocacy day at the state capitol in Olympia. To learn more visit the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance Web site at www.wliha.org/ or call (206) 442-9455.

To view complete results of the One Night Count for the Homeless visit the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness Web site at www.homelessinfo.org.

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