Volunteers count areas homeless

The homeless are out on Bellevue's streets every night of the year. Last night, a group of volunteers set out to find them during the 2009 One Night Count of unsheltered homeless persons in King County.

The volunteers gathered at the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue and ventured out in teams of four to six people, to count homeless individuals and camps found in Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland.

When the 2008 One Night Count took place last January, 2,631 unsheltered men, women and children were counted, with the greatest number in Seattle. But that figure included 153 people in Bellevue-Redmond-Kirkland section of the Eastside. Most were spotted in cars or trucks. Others were found in doorways, bushes, bus stops, riding buses, etc. — or just walking around.

This year's numbers weren't known as of the Reporter's deadline.

The total for the 2008 One Night Count was about 15 percent higher than in January 2007. During 2008, the national and local economies have taken enormous downturns, so what are expectations in 2009?

“Every year I go out hoping to find no one,” Meghan Altimore said before the Friday count, “but knowing that will not be the case. I can't predict what we will find, though I feel the devastating downturn in the economy is severely impacting those with very limited resources.”

The face of homelessness in these communities is different, or at least less obvious, than in Seattle, volunteers say. Many of the homeless here are hidden, because of the fear or stigma of being found out.

We asked Altimore how they react when noticed during the One Night Count.

“Volunteers are trained before leaving to go out on the count as if they are walking through someone's bedroom,” she explained. “It is essential to all of us involved that we do nothing to harm any individual that we find or to reduce their dignity in any way. With that in mind, there is rarely interaction with the individuals we find during the count. They are usually sleeping.”

Altimore added, “This will be my fourth year of participating in the Eastside portion of the King County count. What surprised and impressed me most was the up-close experience of people's resourcefulness and resiliency. Individuals out there have found a way to not only survive in harsh conditions, but to retain a piece of their life and their personality in the process, which I admire greatly.”

Mary Stevens Decker can be reached at mdecker@redmond-reporter.com or 425.867.0353, ext. 5052.