Today began the annual homeless census and I was there


Today I was privileged to interview seven unsheltered individuals who live in Olympia. It was part of the annual, federally mandated PIT Count – Point in Time census – organized here by Thurston County.

Starting at 6 a.m. today, county and city staff and scores of volunteers fanned out across Olympia – where the vast majority of homeless people are living – and invited them to be interviewed.

To motivate people to participate, the county lined up rechargeable headlamps, socks (those Bombas ads are true), gloves and thousands of miscellaneous durable items, both loose and in hygiene kits, in quantities sufficient to serve the hundreds of people the county staff intend to have met with today.

My station was at the Olympia Timberland Library; I stayed from 11 to 2:30. St. Martin’s University’s nursing program brought professors and students who popped up a clinic in the corner of the conference room to wash feet and bandage wounds. Thurston County Public Health delivered flu and COVID shots to those who wanted them.

Other groups worked simultaneously at Salvation Army, Union Gospel Mission, Olympia Senior Center, Community Youth Services’ Rosie’s Place (for youth ages 13-24) and Interfaith Works’ Sergio’s Place. The PIT Count staff and volunteers offered food and survival goods at every location. Rosie’s Place offered hair cuts and karaoke, too. County officials told me that their regular outreach staff members also went outdoors to The Jungle, Percival Creek and other lesser-known encampments today. 

Who talked with me?

The county set things up in the corner conference room. I was one of about six whose job was to round people up and interview them. We walked around the library and asked people who looked like they might be homeless to talk with us.  I asked 10 people.  Two told me to buzz off; three said they’d already talked. Four more followed me to the conference room.

Who were these people who shared their very personal stories with me?  Five of the six slept outdoors last night, one said he stayed at a church-run overnight shelter. Three said their last permanent address was in Thurston County, two said Shelton, one came last year from Seattle. Four told me they used drugs; two said they don’t. Three were White, one each was Black, Mixed-Race or Pacific Islander. One was in his 30s, three were in their 40s, two in their 50s. Five men, one woman.

  1. Abel (of course, not his real name), a male in his 30s. Very soft-spoken, with slurred speech. He took off his stocking cap and showed me a scar that run from his forehead back to over his ear. Someone years ago bashed him with a pipe, he told me.
  2. Bill, 40s, told me he’d recently been released from jail, again. Assault with a deadly weapon this time. He told me that he’s tired of being beaten up, and tired of thinking about killing himself.
  3. Carl, also in his 40s, foreign-born. He told me that he became homeless after losing his job. Said he can’t work because whenever he gets a new job, someone from the government goes to his employer and whispers something that causes him to get fired again.
  4. Dave, early 50s. He said he travels around town with his companion, a lady who chose to not be interviewed.  He took some socks for her as well as for himself.
  5. Eddy and Abby, a couple. She did most of the talking, very quietly. She said she’d been a nurse, working in hospitals, until a few years ago. Bad decisions and bad luck brought her to this point, she said.
  6. Fred, a former state worker in his late 50s who grew up in Lacey.  He’s been homeless for more than a year. He was frustrated about how long he was told he’d need to wait for housing services. I referred him to Senior Services Home Share Program based on stories we’d published about it.

This was a mix of people, certainly. We’ll find out later this year how representative this group was of the larger homeless population. Here’s Thurston County’s 2023 Point In Time Count report. Last year the county reported it counted 740 people.

At the top of this essay I said I was “privileged to interview” these people. Why? These people were all strangers to me when I invited them to talk. The 18 questions on the county’s PIT Survey are personal and intimate, and I felt I had no right to ask.

  • “Do you … identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer?”
  • “Health Conditions: (Circle ALL that apply – including mental health disorder, intellectual disability)”
  • “What circumstances led to your homelessness?” (19 choices to circle, plus “other,” including “family rejection,” “prior domestic violence,” “eviction” and several others that many in polite middle-class society might prefer not to talk about, even with friends.

Every individual I spoke with responded patiently and fully.  Each interview took 20-30 minutes.

While the six people who spoke with me are clearly and truly experiencing deprivation, I have reason to hope that some of them will survive and eventually find shelter.

But there was another person I talked with briefly, out along the far wall of the library. She seemed terrified and used very few words; perhaps she lives with Autism. Since she refused to be interviewed, she likely won’t be counted. And with such limited communication skills, what kinds of services might she access?

What kind of hope can we have for her?

Danny Stusser is the publisher of The JOLT - The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater. The opinion above is his, and not necessarily those of The JOLT's staff or board of directors. 

If you have an opinion about a Thurston County topic, you're invited to send it to us for publication.


8 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • LSeppanen

    Thank you for volunteering your time to participate in the Point in Time Census today and then thoughtfully sharing what you learned about the homeless neighbors you visited with today.

    Friday, January 26 Report this

  • Boatyarddog

    Really difficult to understand how uncaring our city planners are with respect to creating housing for NO To Low Income homeless.

    Affordable housing MUST address all incomes...

    Or lack of!

    The city must Tap the Developers that have been given loopholes for taxes for Many local projects during SELBYS Reign.

    Start with Walker John and Thomas design.

    Friday, January 26 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    Let’s get to brass tack: what percentage are mentally disabled, addicted to drugs, there by choice, or genuinely on hard times?

    Saturday, January 27 Report this

  • WayTooOld

    Thank you, Danny!

    Sunday, January 28 Report this

  • JW

    What have the last 10+ years of no strings attached handouts gotten us? Housing first initiatives?

    Has the problem been improving or getting worse?

    Could it just might be the rampant drug addiction that taxpayer money-addicted nonprofits want to pretend doesn't exist?

    Sunday, January 28 Report this


    Thank you Danny for your service to our community. You are a real mensch!

    Monday, January 29 Report this

  • waltjorgensen

    to Danny Stusser- Thank you. waltjorgensen@comcast.net

    Monday, January 29 Report this

  • Grailking

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse of an unpleasant reality. We know that the economic system that allows corporations to accumulate a huge percentage of existing housing and use algorithms to charge the maximum rent humanly possible is not going to solve this problem for us.

    If we as a society don't feel our fellow humans should be unhoused, then we need to support public programs to provide basic housing, maybe funded by taxing the private equity and investment firms responsible for making housing unaffordable for so many.

    Thursday, April 4 Report this