Reflecting on the 2024 Pierce County Point in Time Count

Reflecting on the 2024 Pierce County Point in Time Count

By Bryan Dominique
Communications Manager, Office of the Pierce County Council

Here’s a news story from FOX 13, a local news station covering Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, and Western Washington, on the results of the 2023 Point in Time Count, or PIT. The PIT Point-In-Time helps the County improve programs and provides important insights into why people are experiencing homelessness.

Nearly 300 people died homeless on the streets of Pierce County in 2023; with that sobering statistic, it’s easy to see why the Point in Time Count is considered one of the most important annual activities the County does. This annual census, organized by Pierce County Human Services, serves as a poignant reminder of the harsh realities faced by those without a place to call home.

“I was assigned to the Parkland-Spanaway area,” said Council Chair Ryan Mello (District 4). “That night, I spoke with someone who had cancer and was living in her car. She was a great person, and she had a great attitude. We can do better for this person and many others like them. We have to do better.”

The Point in Time Count aims to capture how many people are experiencing homelessness in Pierce County in 24 hours. This is a vital initiative to gauge the extent of homelessness in our region. In Pierce County, this effort goes beyond numbers.

“I spoke with over 25 homeless individuals in the Hosmer neighborhood of Tacoma,” said Council Vice Chair Marty Campbell (District 5), who also Chairs the Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness. “I spoke with a married couple who had been homeless for just over two years. His car broke down, which led to him losing his job, followed by being evicted. Most shelters are men or women only, so they choose to stay together on the streets. They have been doing odd jobs and saving up to get into a place this year. We gave them supplies and confirmed they are connected with support services.”

The count was conducted on Thursday, Jan. 25, and Friday, Jan. 26, and this year’s count brought together dedicated volunteers, service providers, and community members who fanned out across the County within the 24-hour window to connect with those experiencing homelessness and document their stories. While the official results are yet to be released, preliminary data indicates that homelessness remains a persistent issue in Pierce County.

The Point in Time Count hopes to reveal not just the quantitative aspect of homelessness but also the qualitative, shedding light on the stories and circumstances that lead individuals to this difficult reality.

“What I like about the Point in Time is the count gives us actionable information to help our community members who are homeless. For instance, I encountered an individual in their 60s who found themselves homeless due to health setbacks. This individual, who was not involved in substance abuse and did not have family or children to rely on, faced difficulties in finding employment and navigating service alone,” said Councilmember Paul Herrera (District 2). “This tells me we must make investments and establish a policy promoting strong, secure, and supportive family connections. Family reunification, work programs, and the availability of drug, alcohol, and behavioral health treatment are all ways we can explore.”

The 2024 count allowed volunteers to engage in meaningful conversations with those experiencing homelessness, breaking down the barriers that often separate the housed from the unhoused. Each face tells a unique story – stories of resilience, struggles, and the quest for a better tomorrow. The Point in Time Count encourages the community to see beyond statistics and embrace empathy by humanizing the issue.

The count also exposed the myriad challenges those living on the streets face. Lack of access to healthcare, limited job opportunities, and the scarcity of affordable housing emerged as recurring themes. Understanding these challenges is crucial for developing comprehensive strategies that address the root causes of homelessness.

“I’ve had the chance to volunteer for the annual Point in Time Count three times, and once again, this year reaffirmed my belief that the number one cause of homelessness is a family or human connection being lost. This could be from a divorce, being kicked out, fleeing domestic violence, or even removal from a family for a variety of reasons,” said Councilmember Jani Hitchen (District 6). “The point is you have lost your people. You had lost those people who might have been there when your car broke down, you were sick, or you were struggling with mental health or drugs.”

“The compounding trauma I heard from every person I spoke to just added to my thinking about how we get in front of this. We continue to build a network of support that includes people doing the hard work with those living unhoused who may have behavioral health, medical, and substance use disorder issues. The need is significant,” added Hitchen.

The community’s response becomes paramount in the wake of the 2024 Point in Time Count. While the numbers provide a stark picture, they also serve as a call to action for local authorities, non-profit organizations, and residents. Collaboration and innovative solutions are essential to creating a supportive environment that addresses the multifaceted nature of homelessness.

Opinions on homelessness vary, and the strategies to address it involve essential policy and investment discussions among the Pierce County Council. All Councilmembers, however, are committed to getting people the support they need to get out of the cycle of homelessness.

“This is a community where homelessness is not just a statistic but a challenge we are determined to overcome,” said Councilmember Dave Morell (District 1). “After this Point in Time Count, I think emphasizing our safe parking sites is paramount to getting people the wrap-around services they need to be successful.”

Those insights are exactly what the Point in Time Count is all about. It’s an excellent opportunity to connect with unhoused people and connect them with resources to move into more stable and appropriate housing, just like the Vice Chair of the Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness was able to do.

“I met with many people who seemed surprised that there were resources that could help them. They were grateful for the information we provided. I was happy to connect them with an outreach worker who followed up with them the next day,” said Councilmember Robyn Denson (District 7). “We met one woman living in her car with three beautiful cats. She told me that she was not suffering from any substance abuse disorder or mental illness, and she’d received permission from the owners of the parking lot to stay there. She simply needed a safe place to stay.”

The Council remains committed to this work and wants to thank the Human Services staff, the community-based organizations, and the many volunteers who made this opportunity happen and do this work every day. The lived experiences, training, and relationships that our professional and volunteer staff brought to the table were absolutely essential for this event to happen. You can find and share additional resources from the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness website.