Another One Night Count to end homelessness has come and gone. Every year, more than 900 volunteers in the Seattle/King County area take to the streets the last Friday morning of January, 2 a.m.-5 a.m., to count those who are living without shelter on our streets.
This year, I was assigned to walk under the West Seattle Bridge and cruise Harbor Island. My team included a Seattle Fire Department captain (with a warm van), a Downtown Emergency Services contracts manager, a student pursuing a master’s in social work, and a shelter staff person. It was a clear night, a bit warmer than years past, but still chilly when standing still for more than a few minutes. Definitely cold for those sleeping outside.
Last year my team walked through the cold dark into a profound moment when a couple of people found the body of Kathryn Ann Blair in the grass clover leaf of the Rainier Avenue South off ramp from westbound I-90. That was first – and I hope a never-again – for the One Night Count.
What was striking for me this year was not what stood out, but instead what continues to blend in – the campers, vans, and tents under Spokane Street or on the edge of the industrial area parking lots that we drive or bus by every day. We counted half a dozen campers likely occupied. One had two children’s bikes leaned against each other.
I just became the chair of the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resiliency and this night makes tangible the work that must be done in our committee. I grumbled a bit to myself about staying up all night and then scheduling myself for a half-day planning session on our office workplan the next morning, but, really, participating in the One Night Count and then getting down to work is exactly what we must do. This year we’ll be looking at boosting the city’s affordable housing strategies, preventing and mitigating foreclosure, strengthening job opportunities, connecting people with mental health services, crisis housing and a building a city-wide housing strategy. That’s in addition to the likely bump in Seattle’s minimum wage. It’s not the answer to eradicating poverty, but it will help.
Thanks to all of you who participated in the One Night Count this year and thanks to Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness for organizing so many of us to do this important work.