Volunteers hit the streets to count homeless for annual Point in Time count

Lynnwood Fire Captain DeVon Ogurkow ventures under a freeway overpass in Lynnwood searching for homeless people to count.

Volunteers throughout South Snohomish County had a tough job for the annual Point in Time count on Tuesday morning. The cold, wet January weather doesn’t do them any favors.

The Point in Time count is a federal effort to count the number of homeless people in an area and gain an understanding of what services they need. Last year, 1,118 homeless people were counted in Snohomish County. This year’s count took place on Tuesday, which began as a chilly, foggy day, the kind of day where most people stay inside to keep warm.

In South Snohomish County, the effort is organized by the YWCA. The organization sets up a day center at Good Shepherd Baptist Church, located at located at 6915 196th St. S.W. in Lynnwood. There, hot food is served, survival supplies are distributed and experts on services for homeless people are on hand to connect people to healthcare, work or Veteran’s services, among other things.

The South Snohomish County volunteers cover the entire area between 128th Street Southwest and the county line, and from I-5 to the water–an area that encompasses Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds, Brier and sections of unincorporated Snohomish County, among other cities.

While some volunteers spend the day at the day center helping those who come in looking for help, a significant number of volunteers hit the streets to count the people still outside.

“This count is to show that need is here, and to show our progress,” YWCA Director of Housing Services Nora Karena said. “Our goal today is to count as many people as possible.”

People sleeping on the streets, in an encampment, in their cars or even in a motel temporarily all count as homeless for the purpose of this survey.

Forms include information such as where the individual slept last night, what circumstances lead them to become homeless and a few basic identifiers to make sure an individual is not counted multiple times. Volunteers collect the sheets, a clip board and a pencil, as well as a few items to hand out to survey participants, and begin their trek outside.

Lynnwood Fire Captain DeVon Ogurkow was one such volunteer. It was his first year participating in the count, but from his work in the field, he knows of some nooks and crannies where people can get out of the elements.

His shift began at 8:30 a.m. After a brief training on how to complete the Point in Time survey form, he ducks behind a building located near Highway 99 in Lynnwood. On the back side of the building, a bicycle is leaning against a wall. As you continue up the alley, berry brambles are squashed in what looks like a well-worn path.

This is a clear sign that people come here regularly, he said. No one was there Tuesday, but an old shopping cart and other items indicate that people probably come and go.

A few more stops in wooded areas behind buildings yield similar results. Signs of life are clear, but no one is home.

Other areas that are common camping grounds were bogs and puddles on Tuesday–not a good place to sleep.

Ogurkow considers the weather. It was cold last night, and it has been wet. People need shelter, a place to get out of the elements. He heads to the Lynnwood Library.

Outside, he meets C.R. (Names of homeless people have been omitted for privacy.) C.R. was happy to answer the questions on the Point in Time survey.

C.R. now lives on the streets in Lynnwood. He prefers to stay in a sleeping bag without a tent, and moves every day. He says he became homeless when he lost his house in California. He had been working from home and decided to move somewhere else when his life changed. That was a year and a half ago, and he said he is happy outside.

That was not the case for D.O., who was contacted along Ash Way in Lynnwood. Ogurkow stopped to scope out the area after seeing tarps hanging near trees in an area of thick woods, serving as shelters from the elements.

D.O. was shivering and clenching her hands.

“I need help. I’m freezing,” she said.

“You look so cold,” Ogurkow said. He invited her into his vehicle, started it and cranked up the heat. “Let’s get you warmed up.”

She became homeless after a family dispute. She now receives disability and social security benefits, but it is not enough for her to make a down payment on a permanent residence. For now, she lives under the tarps in the woods. Inside those tarps, she says she has bundles of blankets, but she still gets cold easily.

She appreciates the moment to warm up inside the vehicle. After her survey is complete, Ogurkow escorts her back to her tent. It is now noon and Ogurkow’s shift is over.

Back at the day center, visitors are greeted by the warm smell of hot barbecue. Shannon Gaule, homeless engagement liaison for the YWCA, says a steady trickle of homeless people has been making their way to Good Shepherd Baptist Church. Games are set up on tables. Groups of homeless and volunteers are chatting over food. Experts wait to help anyone in need with laptops and sign-up sheets handy.

A few of the people receiving services recognize Ogurkow from his work in the field. They smile and shake hands, then continue to a table with a smile and a plate full of hot food.

–Story and photo by Natalie Covate

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