Homelessness in Whatcom County:
A General Overview
Below are several charts that represent data collected across Whatcom County during the Point-in-Time Count. Every year in January, since 2008, a county-wide census of homeless individuals has been taken. While it is likely that the Point-in-Time Count underestimates the number of people experiencing homelessness in Whatcom County, it is still a very useful way to develop a better picture of the local homeless population and to observe trends over time.
This chart displays the total number of homeless individuals counted in Whatcom County each year beginning in 2008. Over an eight year span from 2008 to 2016, there has been a 16% overall decrease in the number of homeless individuals counted in Whatcom County.
In 2016, there were 719 homeless individuals counted in total. These individuals belonged to 497 households.
About two-thrids of homeless households reported their last stable housing was in Whatcom County. This statistic has been fairly stable since before our community began major new investments toward ending local homelessness. Some people think that adding more housing services will attract homeless people from other locales, but the data does not support that assumption.
In 2016, half (51%) of all homeless households were sheltered; 25% stayed in emergency shelter, which might have been a motel if they were receiving a “voucher” or financial assistance to stay there, and 26% were living in transitional housing. Just less than half (49%) of homeless households were unsheltered. They stayed the night before the Count out of doors (30%), in a vehicle (13%), in a structure lacking basic amenities (6%), or in an abandoned building (<1%).
Of the 497 homeless households counted in Whatcom County this year, 362 (73%) of them were unaccompanied, single adults. There were 46 (9%) homeless households comprised of two or more adults (without children). A total of 89 (18%) homeless households were families, which included at least one child under the age of 18. The majority of homeless families counted were single parent households (14%).
Overall, there has been a 12% decrease in the number of homeless families with children since 2008. The year-over-year change between 2015 and 2016 was a decrease of 3%, from 92 families in 2015 to 89 families in 2016.
This chart displays the distribution of homeless individuals by age group counted in Whatcom County during the annual homeless census this year. Homeless individuals were almost evenly divided between persons who identified as males (51%) and identified as females (47%). Ages ranged from less than one year old to 77 years old. Almost half (48%) of unaccompanied homeless persons were in the 35-54 age range.
The median age of all homeless individuals was 34 years. However, a significant number of homeless children were also counted in the census. 16% of all homeless persons this year were children under 10 years old, and 23% were under 18 years old. Additionally, seven unaccompanied minors were encountered during this year’s Count.
Since 2008, the number of homeless Veterans encountered during the annual homeless census has decreased by 29%. This year we encountered 59 homeless Veterans in 58 households (one household included two Veterans); 41 of these Veterans were unsheltered, and 14 were chronically homeless.
Over the last three years, nonprofit service providers and Whatcom County government devoted unprecedented effort towards ending homelessness among local Veterans. In early 2010 the new VASH (Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing) program was implemented and in mid 2011 the new SSVF (Supportive Services for Veteran Families) program was also introduced. Both of these programs have allowed for significant reductions in Veteran homelessness in Whatcom County.
Homeless count survey respondents were asked to list which of five disabilities applied to each member of their household. The most prevalent disabling condition was mental illness (38%). It should be emphasized that this data is based on self-reporting. Due to the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse, these conditions are almost certainly under-reported.