by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he people who run the city of Spokane's annual homeless census are trying to solve a riddle: Is the homeless population declining?
Evidence: In Jan, 2006, when the first census was held, Spokane Homeless Coalition providers counted about 1,600 people. In Jan. 2007, those same providers counted 1,187 "unsheltered, sheltered and transitional" people, according to Amy Jones from the city's Human Services Department.
"That first count we had a lot of energy and media coverage" that drew attention to the census, says Jones. "The second count we had this weird energy; the skating championships (at the Convention Center and Arena) may have had something to do with it. There just wasn't that much excitement."
Perhaps that "weird energy" led to the smaller number of people counted. Maybe the cold weather kept people staying with family and friends instead of going to shelters and soup kitchens. Or maybe it was their experience with the first census; the form that providers asked recipients of services to fill out was long. Jones and other providers weren't sure they got an accurate count (they acknowledge their count is probably hundreds short of the actual homeless population), so they decided soon after to sponsor another census in summer, in part to see how the homeless population differs when the weather is warmer.
Although Thursday is officially billed as Every One Counts Day, the census actually started last Sunday and will run through Saturday.
An annual homeless census in mandated by state law and it gives providers "some very useful demographic information," says Jones. "We use that information when we apply for federal homeless program money. We use it when we talk to state legislators."
State officials have vowed to cut Washington's homeless population by half during the next 10 years. Cities and counties are required to reach the same goal and create 10-year homeless plans.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n Coeur d'Alene Park Thursday (Homeless Connect Day), about 30 agencies will provide services for homeless people, from Gonzaga nursing students giving free blood pressure checks to vendors offering free haircuts and foot massages. Meals will be served and clothing, blankets, condoms and paperback books will be given away. Representatives from the Community Health Association of Spokane (CHAS) clinics will offer medical care. Information will be provided about HIV testing. And Spokane County elections officials will register people to vote.