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Volunteers count King County's homeless population

Hundreds of volunteers scattered across King County early Friday morning to count the number of people experiencing homelessness during the annual King County Point-In-Time count.

The annual count gives a snapshot of the homelessness crisis and, despite King County and Seattle spending tens of millions of dollars on services in recent years, the tally has continued to rise.

Last year, 11,643 people were found to be living without a home in King County. Results from this year's count are expected as early as May.

Kira Zylstra is the acting director of All Home King County, the agency that coordinates the count. She said the county has made progress in their efforts to get people off the streets and into housing.

But Zylstra said she doesn't expect this year’s count to show a big decrease in the county’s homeless population.

"We have gotten better and better at finding the right resources at the right time and connecting people to those resources quickly. What we have not been able to do is kind of stem the tide of how quickly people are falling into homelessness," she said.

Zylstra said the Point-In-Time count is likely an under-representation of the problem. But she said the information is still useful for the county and the community.

"I think it's important that we all have an understanding of what the problem really looks like, of the people that are out there needing our support, so we can respond in really relevant ways. The more we know about those that are in need, the better and more meaningfully we can respond," she said.

The county has changed its approach to the annual count in recent years. Zylstra said they’ve refined their method to try to get a more accurate estimate of how many people are homeless on a given night.

Volunteers now collect data in all census tracts in the county. Teams are also led by people who have experienced homelessness.

As well as counting the number of people who are visibly sleeping outside, the count collects statistics from shelters for the same night.

Following the count, roughly 1,000 homeless individuals will be surveyed to get an idea of the needs and experiences of the population and to inform the county’s response to the crisis.

Zylstra said, regardless of what the numbers show this year, the county needs to focus on addressing the root causes of homelessness and preventing people from tipping over that edge.

Click or tap on the picture above to see a slideshow of this year's count.

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