Snohomish County Human Services reports the number of people living unsheltered is down 27 percent from 2017, based on preliminary results of the annual homelessness survey. The report follows what East County’s organizers say was an unprecedentedly low participation rate during the Jan. 23 count.

“Our total count was 50, the lowest count in our history of participating in the Point in Time (PIT) count, and although this is only a snapshot of one day, it absolutely does not come close to representing the homeless crisis in our area,” according to Take the Next Step Drop-In center director Janos Kendall said. “This count would make it look that our homeless situation is improving a great deal, when in fact it’s not.”

Snohomish County is broken up into four sections during the annual count. East County covers Monroe to Skykomish. TTNS headquarters has been the staging site for years. The organization took over leading the efforts in 2017. This year 77 volunteers were trained and went out in the field during two shifts. More than 250 volunteers throughout the county gathered to collect data this year.

Nearly 380 people in 331 households were found to be unsheltered at the time of the count.

The PIT snapshot gathers data on who is living that way and why, and helps to identify trends. Snohomish County adopted the survey format about five years ago. Questions are regularly updated and revised to reflect evolving information.

A few factors are believed to have contributed to the low turnout. The recent deaths of two local homeless men heightened a sense of mistrust among the community, according to TTNS. Information was received from members of encampments on the day of the count that Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputies had visited and cleared out sites in the weeks leading up to PIT.

Law enforcement agencies are invited to partner with organizations for the PIT — they are asked not to remove people from camps before the date.

Human services did report homelessness has become more prevalent since 2013, according to the news release. A nearly 10 percent rise has been tracked in the past five years, and numbers can fluctuate from year to year.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers attributed this year’s significant recorded drop to countywide efforts. Progress has been made in one critical area, but more work is left to do, he believes.

“With our housing prices booming, some are left out and end up on our streets and in camps,” Somers said in a human services news release. “To relieve human suffering, we are finding innovative ways to help our fellow residents find a place to call home and get the services they need. I applaud all of those who have selflessly worked to stem the tide of homelessness and give our neighbors hope.”

The results of the PIT count are a resource organizations use to address the many barriers that keep people from swiftly reentering a stable lifestyle. The causation for living unsheltered long-term is often multifaceted.

“Long term chronic homelessness is more often than not an indicator of the presence of co/tri-morbid conditions,” according to the 2017 PIT count report. “The complexities that these individuals present call out the need for flexible, collaborative approaches and higher levels of support for outcomes to be successful.”

One statistic is quite concerning, according to Human Services director Mary Jane Brell-Vujovic, and that’s the growing percentage of Snohomish County resident living unsheltered.

Chronically homeless make up about 71 percent of people who are living unsheltered, according to the news release. The number of those individuals fell from 313 in 2017 to 270 this year. Someone is considered to be chronically homeless if they have a disability and have been homeless for a year, or at least four times for a combined period of a year within the past three.

“It also showed a high number of individuals who had two or three disabling conditions, including mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders, and/or chronic medical conditions, pointing to the need of more intensive and individualized evidence-based services,” according to the news release.

A full report that includes homeless who were sheltered the night before the PIT count will be released later this year.

“We will continue to implement proven strategies to help those suffering from homelessness,” said Snohomish County Council Chair Stephanie Wright in the release. “When our neighbors need help, we must do what we can to assist them.”