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Lower Yakima Valley sees drop in homeless numbers from 2011

YAKIMA - After three years of dramatic decreases in the number of homeless in Yakima County, the trend appears headed in the opposite direction.

That's according to results of the eighth annual Point In Time homeless survey released yesterday, Thursday.

The survey, conducted each January by the Homeless Network of Yakima County, showed that in 2012 the number of homeless in Yakima County is at 996 people. That's 109 more than last year, a 12 percent increase.

The figure for 2012 is still well below the homeless count for 2010 (1,191) and 2009 (1,314).

In a good sign for the Lower Valley, this area actually saw a decrease in the number of homeless, from 306 in 2011 to 297 in 2012.

The homeless population hike was in the Upper Yakima Valley, which saw a nearly 20 percent spike from 581 last year to 698 in 2012.

In Sunnyside, the number of homeless rose slightly from 98 to 107 people. The figure is still a dramatic decline from just three years ago when Sunnyside counted 498 homeless people.

Elsewhere in the Lower Valley, Grandview's homeless count spiked from seven people in 2011 to 20 this year. Mabton, by contrast, saw its homeless numbers drop from 29 to two.

Mike Murdock is a spokesman for the homeless network, a consortium of providers who serve the homeless in Yakima County, and he said those 17 and younger are especially seeing an increase in homelessness.

The survey, required each year for jurisdictions receiving federal housing funds, found the number of homeless youth in the county rose from 241 to 297 this year.

"The number one reported cause of homeless was the inability to pay for rent or mortgage," said Murdock. "There is a significant lack of affordable housing within Yakima County and if there's a shortage of housing rents are going to end up higher."

Even so, the 2012 survey shows the primary cause of homelessness is nearly evenly split between three issues: Unable to pay rent/mortgage (212), alcohol/drug use (204) and job loss (202).

The biggest increases for the reasons of homelessness were alcohol/drug use (from 180 to 204, a 13 percent increase) and family break-up (from 117 to 135, a 15 percent increase).

The survey was held at several locations in Yakima County and conducted by more than 200 volunteers.

One of the locations was at St. Joseph Catholic Church here in Sunnyside.

Murdock said the door count at the Sunnyside location showed 251 people visited the site.

Murdock noted that volunteers also went out into neighborhoods and locations where the homeless are known to be.

There were some positives from yesterday's survey results.

Chiefly, the number of homeless veterans dropped from 55 in 2011 to 40 this year, a 27 percent decrease.

In addition, since last year homeless programs in the county have expanded to house an additional 101 individuals, according to the survey results issued yesterday.

The survey also reflected the changing needs of Yakima County's homeless. Nearly 20 percent more are citing transportation as their number one need (from 249 in 2011 to 296).

There was also a 40 percent increase in the number who said food was the primary need (from 203 to 283).

Murdock said the homeless network will review this year's survey more in depth in the coming weeks and months to identify what its next actions should be.

"We'll be figuring out gaps in services that we can try to fill and address particular needs out there," he said.

Murdock says it will be a challenge, as state and federal services are continually being cut.

"We're all working with less money, so we need to make sure we avoid redundancies and be more streamlined to provide the services that are needed," he said.

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