Annual homeless census results for Clark County released Friday suggest that homeless populations in southwest Washington grew considerably over the last year.

Clark County saw a 21% jump in the number of people sleeping on the streets or in their cars over the past year. Roughly 958 people were counted on one night in January, about 163 more people than were counted in 2018.

Kate Budd, executive director with the Council for the Homeless, says the jump is in line with the visible increase of homelessness on the streets.

“The point-in-time count just reinforces that reality,” she said. 

The increase was most dramatic among seniors aged 62 and older, up 85% from last year. Budd says in the last five years, monthly rents in the Vancouver area have risen by an average of $500. That kind of rent hike can be especially difficult to meet when on a pension or fixed income.

Older people experiencing homelessness also tend to have worsening health problems. Budd says the number one request her agency receives from homeless seniors is adapters for CPAP machines, a common solution to sleep apnea, that they can use while spending the night in a car. 

The point-in-time counts also saw double-digit growth among homeless veterans, families with children and unaccompanied minors.

“To me that indicates a level of crisis,” Budd said. “I hope that this is a bit of a reality check for our community to say we need to do more.”

The point-in-time count is a nationwide survey required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that is used to help allocate funding for services. The one-night snapshot is an imperfect measure, but the results can have a big impact on policy decisions and local funding.

Clark County saw a 21% jump in the number of people sleeping on the streets or in their cars over the past year.

Clark County saw a 21% jump in the number of people sleeping on the streets or in their cars over the past year.

Courtesy of Council for the Homeless

Clark County currently spends about $6.3 million on homeless services a year, with about half of that coming from document recording fees.

Local service providers say the spikes in homelessness show the need for more low-income housing, shelter and support services in the region.  

“We are a rapidly growing community that also has increasing housing costs,” said Andy Silver, CEO of Housing Initiative and former executive director of Council for the Homeless. “Together it’s really problematic and is creating this large demand on homeless services.” 

New zoning policies in Vancouver’s housing market could help, Silver said. Affordable housing projects are in the works after an amendment passed last year that makes it easier for developers to build low-income housing in commercial districts.

“It’s just an overwhelmed system. We aren’t seeing any sort of end in sight for this demand for affordable housing,” Silver said.