By Janinne Brunyee, Partner, Boost! Collective
Every time I take the 1st Avenue South exit from the West Seattle bridge, I come face-to-face with an ever-growing cluster of tents and assorted bits and pieces of broken bicycles, chairs, makeshift fire pits and cars. Each time I see people who are living there, trying to create some normalcy and community in an otherwise hopeless situation, I have the same reaction. I want to do something to help.
But it’s not that easy. It’s only in working with Compass Housing Alliance for a few months that I came to understand that you can’t solve a problem if you can’t get your arms around how big it is. So I decided to volunteer for this year’s Count Us In event to help count how many people were experiencing homelessness in King County at a single point of time.
It was a cold January morning. I recruited my partner and a friend to join me. When our alarms went off at 1 a.m., we were half asleep as we bundled into our coats, hats and gloves and headed to the Compass Center on Alaskan Way. We arrived before the appointed time of 2 a.m. yet we encountered crowds who had also joined the effort, assignment in hand and ready to start the count.
Many people had responded to the call for volunteers and I worried we might not be needed. But then someone called out “Three volunteers for South Lake Union” and I raised my hand. We were in business. We’d been teamed up with Ryan, an experienced volunteer who is also a project manager at Downtown Emergency Service Center. Ryan walked us through the form we’d fill out as we counted people and we divvied our coverage area, two groups, two people each.
Once in South Lake Union, we were immediately struck by the quiet in the streets. We wondered if we would find any people at all. Then Ryan and noticed a group of tents on a small fenced off piece of land right up against I-5. There, at 2:20 in the morning, a man was sweeping the area outside his tent with a small broom. The traffic sped past behind them, but the people living in this small community of five tents were trying to create a clean space, a dignified place to live. It was a scene that touched me deeply and a sharp reminder of our shared humanity.
Among the largely empty streets of South Lake Union we did find 21 people without shelter. But, all four of us agreed that was 21 too many.
Big Picture Numbers, Real Lives
All told, the count gives us a clear eyed view into a bigger, and very saddening story. We saw just 21 of the 5,485 unsheltered people in King County on January 27, 2017. Still there were 3,491 more in emergency shelters and 2,667 in transitional housing. The numbers provide an urgent reminder that we need to dramatically scale housing production if there is any chance of addressing this crisis in a meaningful way.
It’s also important to remember that the numbers represent real people. Each person counted is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s mother or father, someone’s friend.
Boost! Collective is a story-driven marketing and communications firm working to discover, create and tell the powerful stories that drive deep connections between organizations and their audiences. We are proud to be working with Compass Housing Alliance to tell their stories.