Count shows small rise in Whatcom County homelessness

The Bellingham Business Journal

Whatcom County Health Department announced that 1,334 homeless individuals were counted during the countywide Point-In-Time Homeless Count held on January 28 of this year. Point-In-Time Count estimates a small rise in the homeless population and significant reduction in certain subpopulations.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Washington State Department of Commerce require each county conduct the annual homeless census as a condition of grant programs that provide assistance to people who experience homelessness.

Since 2008, substantial new investments in programs to end homelessness added or expanded services to help homeless families and individuals obtain permanent, stable housing. At the same time these new programs began operating, an economic downturn of enormous magnitude created greater need for these services due, primarily, due to the reduction in jobs and continuing high rate of unemployment.

“It’s discouraging that our overall homeless population remains the same as it was at the beginning of 2008,” said Greg Winter, director of the Homeless Service Center at the Opportunity Council, the organization that administers many of the new services. “But there are hopeful signs that our new programs are having an impact,” he said.

For example, Washington State Department of Commerce forecasts a 19 percent rise in homelessness due to the recession, but locally there was an increase of less than one percent. The number of homeless individuals counted increased from 1,326 in 2008, before the recession really took hold, to 1,334 this year.

The number of people counted who are chronically homeless decreased for the second year in a row, from 158 in 2008 to 85 in 2010, a decrease of 46 percent. Similarly, there are fewer people who are homeless that were recently released from jail or prison ― down 43 percent. The number of unsheltered homeless families decreased by 50 percent.

According to county housing specialist Gail deHoog, who coordinated this year’s homeless census, county service providers are well positioned to make more progress toward the goal of ending homelessness.

“To do that we need more coordination from our local funding agencies and we need more partners to get off the sidelines and onto the field,” she said. “We will end homelessness in Whatcom County.”

More information, including demographic breakdowns, is available in the report which can be found at


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