This year marks the 10th anniversary of South Whidbey’s annual Point in Time Count to document the island’s unhoused population on central and south Whidbey.

The Island Church of Whidbey, at 503 Cascade Avenue in Langley, will host the South Whidbey event Thursday, Jan. 25th, from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM.

Spearheaded by the Rotary Club of Whidbey Westside, the Rotary needs volunteers to fill some two-hour volunteer shifts that are still available. Email Cliff Ridgway, club service director, for the Rotary Club of Whidbey Westside, at cdridgway@yahhoo.com.

Bags containing personal items will be given to the Jan. 25 visitors. Rotary volunteers assembled 50 care packages at China City Jan. 18, which included toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and other items.

Rotary Club of Whidbey Westside volunteers at China City assemble care packages for the Jan. 25 Point in Time count. Photo shared by Spring Roehm
Care packages assembled by Rotary Club of Whidbey Westside Jan. 18 for upcoming Point in Time count Jan. 25. Photo by Spring Roehm

Spring Roehm, a Rotary volunteer, and owner of SalonSpring in Freeland, said she was given donations of hair care products from suppliers she works with that were added to the bags. In addition, Spring donates hair-cuts and styles for visitors who come to Island Church on Jan. 25. She has donated her services at past events as well.

“I’m working with people of big hearts, people who care, and take action,” Spring said of the volunteers she works with in a recent phone call. “I’m part of this thanks to Judy Thorslund. She called me a while ago and said, “Get your butt down there.”

Rotary Club of South Whidbey volunteer Spring Roehm, left, and Tanya Stager-Gran, executive director of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition, take a moment to pose with a hair care client from a previous Point in Time Count. Photo shared by Spring Roehm

Judy Thorslund, is an in-the-trenches advocate for helping those who need a hand up.

She co-founded and served as past president of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition. She currently is a free agent who helps out with the unhoused population. She likes being known as the ‘Masked Avenger for Whidbey Island’s marginalized and vulnerable.’

When asked to comment about this year’s event, Judy sent me the following words, which describe the history of the South Whidbey Point in Time count:

Masked avenger of Whidbey Island’s marginalized and vulnerable Judy Thorslund. Photo by David Welton

“In 2014 there were a few of us on South Whidbey talking about the need for shelter for our unhoused people here,” Judy noted. “There was a former veteran, a woman, who was sleeping in the bin at Good Cheer, and we wanted to also help in some way.

“The homeless advocate from the county asked if we would be willing to hold a ‘Point in Time Count’ on the south end of the island. We discovered this was a national day where organizations gathered county wide and hosted this day to attract the unhoused and help them find support, and we had never held one on the south end before. With Good Cheer volunteers, county support and our own volunteers, we put on our first Point in Time at Bayview Hall in January of 2014.  It was at this gathering where our group gathered and elected me as chairperson for our work, and we went on from this day to establish the South Whidbey Homeless Coalition, so you might say that the Homeless Coalition was born on our first Point in Time day.

“Since that first year, the homeless coalition has hosted PIT counts each year, bringing more volunteers onboard, becoming visible to our community and providing support and outreach to the unhoused here on Whidbey. We would never have gotten off the ground without the support of Good Cheer, our county Human Services, and the many volunteers who stepped up to do this work. We are grateful that Point in Time takes place yearly. Miracles can and do happen!”

The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development—HUD—in coordination with Washington State’s Dept. of Commerce requires an annual count of the area’s unhoused. Unhoused people are considered those staying in shelters or couch surfing, and those without shelter. Surveys taken on Jan. 25 reflect a snapshot of this population.

According to the HUD report released in December 2023, January 2023 Point in Time Report, “[Nationally there were] found more than 650,000 people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2023, a 12% increase from 2022.”

In Island County, the Dept. of Commerce recorded 131 sheltered and unsheltered people from its 2023 count, down from 152 in 2022.

Based on those figures, counties receive funding toward resources to help their citizens living on the margin of life. The Point in Time Count determines the amount of funding federal and local agencies receive.

“We us these numbers to determine funding levels,” said Emily Wildeman, housing program manager with Island County Housing Assistance. “[At the Jan. 25 PIT count we are] looking for people experiencing homelessness to come to the event, get resources, and see if there’s anything we can do to help them on the path to finding housing.”

Island County Housing Assistance can help those in need with rents, deposits and finding housing.

Tanya Stager-Gran, executive director of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition, joined the Rotary Club of Whidbey Westside in 2021 and volunteered at that year’s Point in Time Count. She said in a previous interview, how volunteering with that year’s PIT count later influenced her into working with the Whidbey Island Homeless Coalition.

Awarded the Rotary’s Paul Harris medal in 2023 for her selfless service is Tanya Stager-Gran, executive director of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition. Photo shared by Spring Roehm

“I fell in love with them,” Tanya said of her work with the Rotary, which led to her wearing the hat of executive director of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition.  “We are so thankful for Rotary and Island County for going the extra mile to get this amazing group of community members to hold this event.”

Corey, who once lived in a shack used to store dynamite, is seen around town looking for help. Photo by David Welton

So, this story is an invitation for those who are volunteers, or a part of our community’s unstably housed, or unsheltered, to visit Island Church of Whidbey Jan. 25 to be counted, get some love and support from local folks, and find resources to improve their lives.

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