Lewis County’s annual event to take the point-in-time homeless count, as well as connect individuals with services and supplies, will be taking place over two days this year, with a Morton location added to the usual gathering at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds.
“We're an entire county. We know there are difficulties with transportation. To say to people, ‘Come to where we are’ is not really serving the entire county,” said Lewis County Housing Program Coordinator Meja Handlen. “We're just really excited about the east-end event — that little dream’s coming true.”
The primary purpose of the event is to allow the Public Health and Social Services Department to take its annual count of the county’s homeless population. That number affects how much funding the county is able to get to put toward homeless programs, and it gives social workers demographic information to be able to serve people’s needs.
“The point-in-time count is not just about a number, but it's also about the needs a person has or the barriers they're experiencing,” Handlen said.
The event also connects individuals with services and essentials. Handlen said 26 vendors will be coming to the event at the fairgrounds, with 20 slated to attend in Morton. Cascade Mental Health and the state Department of Social and Health Services will be there to work with people on housing and mental health issues. Centralia Beauty College will be providing haircuts. WorkSource will also have a representative at both events, specializing in reentering offenders into the workforce. Others will be focused on helping veterans and those with substance abuse issues.
The Twin Cities event will be held Jan. 24 and will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the community events building at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds. The following day, Jan. 25, the Lyle Community Center in Morton will host the east-side event, also from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A big meal will be provided, and those in need of clothing will be able to pick out coats, socks and more items. Handlen said many community members and organizations have donated waterproof items.
Last year’s count showed 132 homeless people in Lewis County, a slight drop from the prior two years. Handlen said that Mason County’s count escalated significantly last year, a surprising result in a county that’s similar in size to Lewis. After speaking with Mason County officials, Handlen said they upped their outreach to be able to bring in and count more people.
That’s what Lewis County is hoping to do by holding events in two locations this year, both to connect those people with services and use the potentially increased — and more accurate — number to access more funding. The county was able to add the east end event because of “buy-in” from agencies, nonprofits and care organizations who said they would be willing to come to both locations, Handlen added.
“As the general population grows and new housing is not in place, that is going to push out those asset-limited people,” Handlen said. “Without that housing infrastructure in place for lower- and mixed-income housing, many more people are becoming homeless.”
Handlen said there have been many success stories from previous Homeless Connect events. One such occurrence was a young man who lacked an identification card, but was able to get a voucher from DSHS to obtain one for a reduced price, which then allowed him to apply for jobs.
“Fundamentally, it is about connecting people with services, so they can be on the pathway to being homed,” she said.