Report: Huge spike in homeless on Clark County streets - KPTV - FOX 12

Report: Huge spike in homeless on Clark County streets

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CLARK COUNTY, WA (KPTV) -

A growing number of people are living in the streets of Clark County, and it’s no small spike: a recent report found 39 percent more people are sleeping on the streets compared to last year.

The data comes from the annual one-day homeless count conducted by Council for the Homeless back in January. 

Not counting people living in shelters and transitional housing, the survey found 374 people living outside.

Dozens of them are camping along public streets near a homeless shelter at West 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue. 

FOX 12 counted at least 60 tents, but there could be more than 80 in the area. 

Echo Kinsey, 56, moved into her car just three days before FOX 12 spoke with her on Tuesday.

“My head goes up here, feet down there, and I can stretch out that way,” Kinsey said, explaining how she tries to get comfortable in her small sedan she shares with her cat, Luna.

“I can’t stand it, but it’s what I have to do,” Kinsey said.

What’s worse, her recent homeless means she’s now separated from her young granddaughter that she cares for.

“It’s hard, but I know she’s in a good place right now and she’s well-taken care off and I don’t have to worry too much about her,” Kinsey said.

It wasn’t always this way, but life threw a curve ball.

“We used to live in Ridgefield in this big four-bedroom house, but then my fiancé died and his family said you got to go,” Kinsey said. 

There are many more heartbreaking stories along the block filled with tents and cars stuffed with belongings.

Tana Johnson said she’s been homeless on-and-off for more than a decade and has called the homeless camp home for more than a year. She said the camp is well-established, but has exploded in size recently.

“I would say in the last five to six months,” Johnson said. 

For homeless advocates, the numbers are no surprise, even if the new statistics are staggering.

Aside from the 39 percent increase in 2018, the number of people found to be sleeping outside also increased by 18 percent in 2017.

“The last three to five (years), things have really changed,” said Deputy Director of Share Shelters Amy Reynolds. “We did not used to have a lot of people who were visibly living outside in Clark County.”

Council for the Homeless Executive Director Kate Budd said skyrocketing rental prices are largely to blame, and more people who are working and more with disabilities are finding themselves unable to afford housing. 

Reynolds said the same goes for shelter stays. 

“The jobs market is great -- so it’s not even that -- we are seeing a lot more people in our shelters who are employed and still not even able to find a place to live,” Reynolds said.

Shelter beds aren’t always available, as many facilities in Clark County are bursting at the seams.

Budd said 60 percent of people seeking shelter were turned away in 2017. 

Kinsey said she is trying to stay positive while looking for apartments.

“It’s extremely difficult -- a lot of people -- they always want two to three times your rent and if you don’t have it, what are you going to do?” Kinsey said. “I put in an apartment application today, so I’m hopeful, because I’m looking for a two bedroom for myself and my granddaughter to move into.”

There are some solutions on the horizon that homeless advocates hope will ease the crisis.

A new homeless day center is expected to open this fall and will offer shower and laundry facilities in a much bigger space than the current one. 

The county is also expected to generate more dedicated money to helping the homeless after the legislature passed a bill to increase document fees.

Vancouver residents in 2016 passed a levy to fund affordable housing. 

If you’re experiencing homelessness in Clark County, call the housing hotline at 360-695-9677.

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