ARLINGTON – Bobby Gunn camped out on the floor, propped up on his backpack to get a meal and some shuteye at the Suds n’ Duds Laundry Center on Smokey Point Drive.
That’s where volunteers were helping with the one-day annual survey of the homeless population in Snohomish County.
Gunn, a former tow truck driver estranged from his large family back east for two years now, calls himself one of the people “living at the edge of this beautiful society.”
He is homeless, shuns using cardboard signs for help, and says anytime he is able, “I want to be courteous, I want to be helpful, and I’m grateful for the respite today from those who look through you and not at you.”
The Point-in-Time Count Tuesday is used by local officials to get a clearer picture of the scope of the problem by gathering information from homeless families and individuals themselves.
The numbers are compiled for the Everett/Snohomish County Continuum of Care plan and reported to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of state and local grant applications to reduce homelessness.
Life Church 360, a few doors from the Suds & Duds, was a base of operations for the county. By mid-day, Housing Hope had signed in about 50 volunteers. After training, teams were mobilized with maps of the north county and canvassed streets, wooded areas and other places where unsheltered homeless are known to camp. Volunteers also carried large baggies containing free socks, snacks, personal hygiene items and other essentials.
While volunteers were reaching out to help the homeless, others were welcomed in. This year, Suds n’ Duds stepped up to serve as one of two count centers in the north county for the homeless to drop in. Peggy Ray, a program manager with Lutheran Community Services Northwest, oversaw the count there.
“The four things that homeless people want most are housing, free food, free laundry and a free place to shower,” said Ray, who manages the Arlington Family Resource Center at the Stillaguamish Senior Center campus.
While the washers and dryers ran, about 30 homeless people who stopped the first part of the day were able to use mobile showers, grab a bite to eat, peruse information about housing, applying for food stamps and health care, substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment from Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital, job training and other resources.
The Stick it Or Stuff It food truck in Arlington provided free meals there. Owners Cindy and Stacy Kloster were happy to help out. “They asked us to have food for the homeless,” Cindy said. “We wanted to do this for them and for our community.”
During the 2017 count, 1,066 people did not have a permanent place to stay the night prior. The number included 462 people in emergency shelters, 89 staying in transitional housing and 515 who were unsheltered. In addition, 44 military veterans were living without shelter.
While the final report will show more breakdown of homelessness in specific areas such as Arlington or Marysville, overall 390, or 76 percent, of the 515 unsheltered people reported that their last permanent residence was in the county. Of that total, 184 said the last city or town they slept in the night before the Point-In-Time count was Everett, 75 slept in Arlington and 85 slept in Marysville/Tulalip, with Arlington and Marysville/Tulalip accounting for nearly a third of all homeless individuals in the county.
The Arlington resource center is on the front lines of addressing the opioid epidemic that has been particularly acute in the Smokey Point area, which is intermingled with homelessness and mental health issues. With the roll out of the new embedded social worker program anticipated this spring in both cities and the county that will team workers with officers, the resource center will play a vital role to get people who want help the help they need.
Ray shared the story of how they got one homeless man into housing, which then led to a job at an auto care business in Marysville. Now he’s the manager.“He said the help really changed his life and helped him get hired,” Ray said. The man today is paying it forward by steering others to the services that the center provides.
Ray said the organization provides wraparound services to get people out of homelessness, and help with things like resume writing.
But, she added, “When you come to our center, we’ll do it with you, not for you.”
Generally, the assistance starts with finding housing then expands into other supportive services.
Resource Center Housing Navigator Lori Morgan was at the laundry handling a housing intake for a new client, and had already entered four new people.
“We get them on a list,” Morgan said, and then they have to wait their turn.
Morgan placed 14 families – 42 men, women and children – into housing in Arlington just in December.
Katie Vaught with Goodwill Industries in Marysville had a table at the laundromat with information about employment. The organization has other classes designed with the homeless in mind.
Gunn said he regularly uses theresource center.
“The resource center and the senior center have both been more than a godsend,” he said.