The annual Point in Time (PIT) Count of people experiencing homelessness in Whatcom County recorded the highest one-night count since the survey began in 2008. According to the 2023 Point in Time Count Report, released today, there was a roughly 27% increase in people counted, from 832 people counted in 2022 to 1,059 counted in 2023.
“People are becoming homeless faster than we can get them back into housing. We’re working hard to prevent and resolve homelessness for many households, but these growing numbers show the gap between what we’re able to do and where we need to be in terms of services and affordable units,” said Chris D’Onofrio, housing program supervisor at Whatcom County Health and Community Services.
Whatcom County funds a variety of support programs with partner agencies for people who are at risk of becoming homeless or who are unhoused. Those programs support the strategies of the county’s Strategic Plan to End Homelessness and include rapid rehousing (temporary rent support and supportive services) to help people exit homelessness, emergency and severe winter shelter, eviction prevention, landlord/tenant mediation, rental assistance, transitional housing for people exiting institutions, permanent supportive housing for people with mental health disabilities, and housing case management to help people achieve lasting stability.
Some support program examples in 2022 include:
Data shows that homelessness disproportionately affects people who are also experiencing at least one other challenge or hardship, like a medical condition, disability, substance use disorder, or being part of a group that faces historical and ongoing discrimination. As an example, since 2019 the Whatcom County data has shown a 141% increase in people over 60 experiencing homelessness (68 in 2019 to 164 in 2023). Seniors are also more likely to live on fixed incomes that limit their housing options, combined with chronic health conditions and associated medical bills.
Notable findings from the 2023 Point in Time Count include:
Changes from 2022 to 2023:
How specific groups are impacted:
Data from previous years has shown the presence of unsheltered homelessness despite shelter availability, and that continues to be the case this year. The relationship between shelter capacity and the number of people who are unsheltered is complicated, and it is difficult to meet the needs and preferences of the diverse population of people experiencing homelessness.
Shelter capacity and utilization increased slightly from last year, but failed to keep pace with the increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness. This likely contributed to the significant growth in the number of unsheltered individuals.
Despite the best efforts of many volunteers and nonprofit partners during this year’s Point in Time Count, we know these numbers are an undercount. It is difficult to find and count every unsheltered person. The survey is only a snapshot taken on a single night and doesn’t include people who cycle in and out of homelessness who may have been housed on the night of the PIT Count. Participation is voluntary, and some people chose not to participate in the survey.
The full 2023 Whatcom County Point in Time Count Report provides additional information on the PIT count, read the full report online.
For those at risk of homelessness, resources are available to help. Households who have fallen behind on rent payments should visit the Opportunity Council Rental Assistance webpage at https://bit.ly/3RPITjv or call 360-746-3826. People experiencing homelessness should contact the Community Resource Center by calling 360-734-5121 or visiting 1111 Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham for services.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that the nationwide Point in Time Count occurs on a specific night every year in every community across the United States. The 2023 PIT Count was conducted on Thursday, January 26. In Whatcom County, this effort is the result of coordination between housing service providers, outreach specialists, non-profit organizations, community volunteers, and administrative staff.