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Federal Way's homeless population count rises

A one-night count revealed Federal Way's homeless population has grown considerably for the second consecutive year.

The annual count took place from 2 to 5 a.m. Jan. 29. Volunteers in Seattle, Kent, the Eastside, North End, White Center, Federal Way, Renton and Auburn split into several teams and count the homeless individuals they encounter in their respective cities. A group also counts homeless persons found on late-running buses serving King County.

Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness coordinates the event in an effort to gauge the effectiveness and allocation of funds for programs associated with the county's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. In Federal Way, the Multi-Service Center leads the count.

Homelessness climbs in Federal Way

The city's homeless numbers are on the rise. Volunteers counted 181 homeless persons during the overnight count. Last year, 116 homeless were counted. In 2008, 92 were located. In 2007, 106 homeless individuals were counted. Each year, the number includes men, women and families.

This year, homeless numbers documented in nearby cities hardly come close to that of Federal Way. Auburn, Renton and Kent each had at least 97 fewer homeless individuals than Federal Way, according to a Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness summary of the event.

Manuela Ginnett, Multi-Service Center housing program director, said she is unsure why Federal Way's homeless population increased so dramatically and differs so much from its neighbors. More than half of the city's homeless were found within vehicles, she said. It is unclear if they are new to Federal Way, just located to an area that is included in the count (as opposed to one that is not), are parked here due to the city's proximity to Interstate 5, or originate from neighboring cities and come here periodically, she said.

Bigger picture

Countywide, the homeless population decreased slightly compared to 2009, according to this year's summary. A total of 2,759 homeless individuals were found, compared to 2,826 last year. The 2010 number takes into account areas across the county that were investigated for the first time this year, according to the summary. The new areas revealed 84 homeless persons.

Countywide, both 2009 and 2010's numbers are considered relatively static among those advocating to end homelessness, said Joshua Okrent, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness media coordinator. Not including the new areas, a 5 percent decrease in the county's homeless population was experienced this year. In 2009, the county experienced a 2 percent increase, over 2008, in homelessness. This is the first two-year cycle in decades of record-keeping that homelessness numbers have not jumped dramatically, Okrent said.

More people are becoming aware of homelessness, Okrent said. More are willing to help put an end to the epidemic, he said.

"It's clear to us that there's been an increased awareness of homelessness in our communities," he said. "The culture is shifting in the favor of helping people."

More to come

The one-night count is part of a larger effort to end homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness launched its 10-year plan to end homelessness in 2000. The immense, multi-stepped plan calls for increasing homelessness prevention programs, rapidly rehousing homeless individuals and families, expanding access to affordable housing and helping homeless persons access important public services. Several communities across the state, including many in King County, have adopted the plan.

The plan appears to be making some difference, Okrent said. But there is still a ways to go.

"Any one is too many," Okrent said. "The numbers are still too high."

Learn more

• 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.

• To learn more about the National Alliance to End Homelessness, visit www.endhomelessness.org.

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