(The Center Square) – Spokane County released its 2024 Point-in-Time Count on Monday, noting the first decrease since 2016, a 15% drop in overall homelessness from last year.

The count is part of the annual process undertaken by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness. Daniel Ramos, a consultant within the Community, Housing, and Human Services Division, presented the data during the Spokane City Council’s Urban Experience Committee meeting on Monday.

Spokane is required to participate in the process as part of HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, which provides funding to tackle homelessness. The metric is one of many estimates used to develop strategies to transition people into more permanent housing.

Ramos said the process followed HUD guidelines and included 239 volunteer surveyors who worked alongside community stakeholders to identify hotspots countywide.

The total number of unhoused individuals during the 2024 PIT Count was 2,021, compared to 2,390 last year. According to the data, 1,435 individuals from the 2024 count were sheltered, a 10% increase from last year, and only 443 were unsheltered, a 54% decrease from last year.

“While it appears we see an overall decrease in this county’s homeless population,” said Reese McMullin, chair of the regional Continuum of Care required to conduct the count, in a news release, “we recognize that this is just one estimate, and there’s still so much work that needs to be done in collaboration with community-based organizations, behavioral health providers, and local government.”

Surveyors also asked the individuals about their vulnerabilities as part of a self-reported data set. Ramos said 49% of the overall unhoused population identified as having a severe mental illness, 38% reported having a substance use disorder and 9% were veterans.

While the overall unhoused population decreased by 15% from last year’s count, the 2024 data still represents a 15% increase from the 2022 PIT Count.

Homelessness has continued to rise in Spokane County since 2016; however, despite this year’s count reflecting the first decrease since then, it also noted a 106% increase compared to that last observed dip, which was only 5%.

This year’s count occurred between January 22 and 27, during which Spokane temporarily reopened the Cannon Shelter to provide emergency beds during a cold snap. The decision likely accounts for some of the increase and decrease observed with the sheltered and unsheltered populations, according to a news release.

Camp Hope also dissolved between last year’s count and now, with many of the 600 individuals who used to occupy the encampment transitioned into housing or one of the region’s homeless shelters. This includes Spokane’s Trent Resource and Assistance Center, or TRAC, which had 400 emergency shelter beds during the 2024 PIT Count.

Spokane is gradually decommissioning TRAC, which could close by the end of this fall as Mayor Lisa Brown and her administration prop up new scattered-site shelters around the city. Currently, the large congregate shelter can support up to 250 beds.

Last week, Brown declared a state of emergency over the opioid crisis in the city and immediately entered agreements with local providers to reopen the Cannon Shelter again and provide other services and programs as well.

While the 2024 PIT Count is only one of many estimates, the number of sheltered and unsheltered individuals has likely changed since January as the Cannon Shelter only temporarily reopened and TRAC has decreased its available beds by 150.

The shift in bed space alone at TRAC effectively negates the 10% increase in sheltered homelessness observed in January.

“This year’s count could not have been completed both without our unhoused neighbors willing to share their information and the community’s involvement and support,” Brown said in a news release. “I sincerely appreciate all the collaboration that it takes to pull this huge regional undertaking off and look forward to future conversations with our partners.”