34% more homeless in ‘unsheltered living’

Data: main homeless causes are mental health, substance abuse

Preliminary data from the annual Point-in-Time count hints at yet another increase in homelessness in Kitsap County, specifically within the “unsheltered” population.

While the data is often thought of as an undercount due to heavy reliance on volunteers, the annual survey is used to gather information on the homeless population, including their living conditions and the causes of homelessness.

Two months after the surveys were conducted, data released by the Department of Human Services indicates that 604 people reported being homeless in 2023, a roughly 7% increase from 2022’s count of 563. The number of those living in emergency shelters slightly increased from 244 to 257, and those living in transitional housing fell from 136 to 102.

Division specialist Cory Derenburger said part of the reason for the increase in overall numbers was due to a lack of ability to conduct interviews the past few years due to COVID.

“It was a little more limited than we usually like to do because we usually like to use multiple strategies of having a resource fair and going to food banks and other social service locations and then doing an outdoor count,” he said. “Because of the pandemic last year, we were unable to do any of the resource fairs, and that’s usually one of the major places where we’re able to connect with people and interview.”

More notable was the drastic spike in unsheltered living, with 245 individuals reporting as such compared to 183 the year before. That 34% increase was the biggest since 2016, when the unsheltered category grew roughly 70%. The majority of the 245 additionally reported they did not live “in a place meant for human habitation,” such as the streets and in tents. Smaller percentages reported living out of vehicles.

“RV’s have certainly increased recently,” Derenburger said. “When we look at an RV, we are looking for the distinguishment between something that’s a livable RV, where it’s meant to travel the U.S. and have all of the facilities working, versus something that is not substantially different of a car.”

Those experiencing unsheltered homelessness were found to still primarily reside within Bremerton city limits, with 58% reporting as such. Port Orchard and Silverdale were both marked at 15%, while Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island continue to hold slim homeless populations at 8% and 4%.

As for the characteristics and causes of homelessness in Kitsap County, mental health leads the way in both categories. Two-thirds of survey respondents said they experienced challenges in mental health followed by 45% reporting chronic substance abuse, both increases from 2022. 46% said mental health among other health issues caused their homelessness, while 43% said they were unable to work or lost a job.