Homeless in Seattle

What Homelessness Looks Like Here in Four Charts

In 2002, when the Bush administration started pushing cities to adopt 10-year plans to reduce homelessness, Seattle/King County was already on board.

The feds suggested targeting chronic homelessness – typically the most visibly homeless people. But Seattle was ambitious and promised to end all homelessness by 2015.  

It’s been 10 years since the Seattle plan was launched, and the number of homeless people here has surged. This isn’t a national trend – across the county, homelessness has dropped by nearly a quarter.

The numbers aren’t relenting, either. A count of the homeless in January revealed that the number of people living outside rose 22 percent over last year in the city of Seattle. 

Where Do Seattle's Unsheltered Homeless Spend The Night?

CREDIT KUOW GRAPHIC/KARA MCDERMOTT

Competing Plans

Cities had an incentive to draft 10-year plans: government money.

Here’s how it works: Communities compete with each other for federal dollars to fight homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, let them know that those with 10-year plans would have a leg up.

How Do We Compare Nationally?

CREDIT KUOW GRAPHIC/KARA MCDERMOTT, PHOTO/JOHN RYAN

Even With Plans In Place, Homelessness Grows

How do you wrap your mind around 18,839 homeless people in Washington state? 

Washington’s homeless rate has actually been going down since 2006. But King County’s rate has been going up, and it’s outpacing the general population growth.

After 10-Year Plan, Why Does Seattle Have More Homeless Than Ever?

Jonathan Murrell says he hasn't had housing in years, after being hurt in a car accident.
Credit: John Ryan/KUOW

Ten years ago this month, King County made a bold promise: to end homelessness in 10 years. The ranks of the homeless have declined in Washington state and nationally during that time. But in the Seattle area, the number of people sleeping on the streets and in shelters has only gone up.

According to the latest count in January, at least 3,772 people spend their nights outside in King County. An even greater number have some temporary roof over their heads, in homeless shelters or transitional housing.

Homelessness is growing much faster in King County than the county’s overall population.

You can find evidence of the rising tide of homelessness in lots of places. One of them is SoDo. On weekdays, commuters park along the curbs of this mostly industrial area south of downtown Seattle. And 24/7, so do the tents, recreational vehicles, and cardboard structures of the homeless.

Angi Davis, head of the SODO Business Improvement Association, took me on a tour of the neighborhood.

“There’s somebody living underneath that box truck right there in the back – a sleeping bag and a bunch of stuff pushed underneath, so he got a little bit of shelter from the weather,” she said. We drive by one stretch of sidewalk where a tent and a cardboard home, both covered in blue tarps, squat between a razor-wire fence and a Mercedes Benz. Down the block, more cardboard homes next to a Cadillac Escalade.

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