Walla Walla County homeless numbers down after definition change

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WALLA WALLA — Homeless numbers dropped this year, but the change is due to how “homeless” people are counted.


By the numbers

Based on a county survey of 242 households, the numbers below show data from this year's homeless survey.

Numbers in parentheses are the number of households responding.

Top ten situations that caused homelessness in 2013

1) Family crisis/break-up (77) and alcohol/substance abuse (77)

2) Job loss (59)

3) Mental illness (51)

4) Primarily economic reasons (48)

5) Temporary living situation ended (37)

6) Domestic violence (36)

7) Eviction (27)

8) Illness/health problem (24)

9) Conviction (misdemeanor/felony)

10) Lack of job skills

Homeless age groups (ranked by number)

1) 26-35 (71)

2) 6-12 (57)

3) 36-45 (56)

4) 13-17 (52)

5) 46-55 (40)

6) 21-25 (37)

7) 0-5 (34)

8) 18-20 (31)

9) 56-64 (20)

10) 65-plus (2)

Susan Kralman, county homeless coordinator, presented results of this year’s survey to Walla Walla County commissioners Monday. The survey is taken the last Thursday in January and involves about 40 public and private entities throughout the county.

This year’s survey showed a decrease in homeless households from 583 last year to 400 this year, a 31 percent reduction. Homeless individuals dropped from 323 last year to 242 this year, a 24 percent decrease.

Kralman said one reason for the difference is because the survey no longer counts people receiving rental assistance if they could remain in their rental unit once their rental subsidy ended. This caused the number counted as staying in “transitional housing” to drop significantly, from 116 households last year to 42 this year. Although the state and federal authorities excluded rental assistance recipients in 2011, for continuity and comparison purposes the county continued counting those households until this year, Kralman said.

Another change is the survey no longer counts people staying in hospitals or jails. These were included in previous counts, but are not considered homeless people according to state and federal definition. As a result, that category was eliminated from this year’s count as well which affected the total numbers.

Although the numbers have changed, the top reasons given as causing homelessness remain about the same, according to the survey results.

This year “family crisis/break-up” tied with “alcohol/substance abuse” as the number one reason leading to homelessness among households. Last year “primarily economic reasons” had been number one, but that slipped to the fourth-leading cause this year.

“Job loss” and “mental illness” also remained in the top five situations leading to homelessness.

In response to the question “where did you stay last night?” the chief response from both households and individuals was “temporarily with family (or) friends.” “Transitional housing” came in second and “emergency shelter” was third.

One area showing a consistent decrease was in regard to disabilities. One category, “chronic substance abuse,” has dropped steadily from 176 in 2006 to 68 this year, a 61 percent decrease. Another category, “mental health,” also decreased from 99 in 2006 to 71 this year, although the number did show a spike to 105 in 2010 before continuing to drop.

Kralman noted that the weather at the time of this year’s survey was cold and somewhat wet, with a high of 39 degrees and a low of 30 degrees. Precipitation that day was .01 of an inch, according to National Weather Service records.

The homeless point in time survey was started in 2006 as part of House Bill 2163, which passed the year before and required counties to draw up plans to reduce homelessness by 50 percent within 10 years.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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