WALLA WALLA - There is some good news from the front for those battling the homeless situation on Walla Walla.
According to Walla Walla's Homeless Alliance, point-in-time survey data released Wednesday show a drop in numbers in several categories.
No one is quite sure why, however, said Susan Kralman, coordinator for Walla Walla County's 10-year plan for ending homelessness.
Kralman used housing and service providers, school district employees and people who have experienced homelessness to gather information on Jan. 28, she said. Respondents did not have to answer everything and could check more than one box on many of the questions.
The number of homeless individuals reported this year dropped to 521, down from 547 in 2009 and 583 in 2008.
"It is interesting. We are showing a decrease, which we definitely want to see and which is good, but I have no explanation for it," she said. "This is a one-day count and that can fluctuate from day to day."
The total equals 294 households; in 2009, 316 families reported a lack of permanent housing.
The survey, which originated in 2006, breaks the picture down multiple ways, including by age, types of disabilities, veteran status, income sources and situations leading to homelessness.
Out of those reporting to be homeless, meaning they lack a permanent home, 131 were age 5 or younger, 64 said they had no oral health care, 112 struggle with substance abuse, two are age 65 or older, 48 have a physical disability and 65 said they served in this country's military, although only 27 reported receiving veteran benefits.
The number of kids without a permanent street address is disturbing, Kralman said. "Basically, for the 2010 survey, half of the homeless people in this county are kids and that is alarming to me."
As well, 121 people had stayed at an emergency shelter the night before the survey was done, 226 were in transitional housing and 148 stayed with friends, sometimes referred to as couch surfing. Twelve people had slept in a vehicle, down from 20 in 2006 but up from seven last year. Two spent the night in an abandoned building, the report states. The number of homeless in jail, however, was 13, reduced from 28 in 2009.
The period of time people reported having been homeless ranged. In 2006, 250 respondents said they had been homeless for less than a month. This year that number is 14. But those reporting being homeless for more than a year has increased from 37 in 2008 to 46 to 2009 to 57 in 2010.
Those surveyed listed various reasons for being homeless, from being evicted to language barriers to aging out of foster care. Forty-one people reported they were homeless due to domestic violence, 100 people attributed their situation to substance abuse while 39 said a poor credit rating kept them out of housing.
Addiction is the top barrier to gaining a home, according to Kralman.
"I think it's tough to get people to take steps toward treatment. That, and family break-ups and lost jobs," she said. "We see this as an ongoing theme."
Just under 20 percent of the survey respondents indicated they had no income, 116 said they received some form of public assistance and 24 get money from family and friends. Data indicates 15 homeless folks in the area work part time and 25 are employed at a low-wage job.
It's difficult to put the cart before the horse, the coordinator explained - getting and keeping a job is made much more difficult without a place to call home, she said. "When people are homeless our focus is on stability and getting people into homes."
The over arching challenge in Walla Walla and many other communities is housing homeless families. Shelters here are not set up for families or have limited room for them, Kralman explained. Subsidized housing is not accessible at the moment, either, she added. "Families are being turned away."