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More than 12,000 people are experiencing homelessness in King County

Even more people are unsheltered in the county—especially those living in cars

Phil Lowe/Shutterstock

Every year, a team of staff and volunteers with coalition All Home covers King County, tallying people who are sleeping outside. This year, the report on the count, released Thursday, found that 12,112 were experiencing homelessness on the night of January 26 alone.

More than half, or 6,320, were sleeping outside of a shelter, meaning somewhere like on the street, in a vehicle, in an abandoned building, or in a tent. In 2017’s count, a little less than half were unsheltered. (Previous years aren’t entirely comparable, since methodology changed last year.) The All Home report notes that the decrease in those who are sheltered was partially due to people moving from transitional housing to permanent housing, although the general population of those experiencing homelessness rose 4 percent since last year.

The most major increase, the report found, was in people sleeping in vehicles, with a staggering 46 percent increase in the past year to more than 3,000 individuals—or more than half of those who are unsheltered. Around half those were in RVs, although 34 percent were sleeping in cars. Many of that population are chronically homeless, and the city has had some trouble grappling with what to do with those living in vehicles. A program that connected vehicle-dwellers to case managers expired in 2017, the city’s last lot devoted to parking such vehicles is full, and attempts to build policy to address the issue have failed.

Compared to 2017, more individuals are sleeping in sanctioned encampments—and fewer in unsanctioned encampments—although the total number of those sleeping in unsanctioned encampments in 2018 is about three times that of those in sanctioned encampments. The number of people staying in emergency shelters increased slightly, while the number of those staying in transitional housing decreased by 17 percent.

71 percent, the majority of those unsheltered, were in Seattle—around the same as last year. Southwest King County, which includes Renton and Kent, also had a high homeless population, although it also saw the biggest decrease by region. North county, which includes Shoreline and Woodinville, meanwhile, saw a 300 percent increase.

The count found a disproportionate amount of people of color: 27 percent of those surveyed in the point-in-time count were black, compared to just 6 percent of King County’s population. The disparity also hit those identifying as hispanic or Latino, at 15 percent (as opposed to 9 percent) and mixed-race (16 percent compared to 6 percent). While the count found a decrease in the American Indian population, a number of Native advocacy groups have challenged that number as an undercount.

The survey also suggested that homelessness hits LGBTQ folks disproportionately, as well—18 percent of respondents identified as lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, questioning, pansexual, or other, anything besides “straight,” the same as last year A Gallup survey, the summary notes, estimates that just under 5 percent of the general population in the area identifies as LGBTQ.

One thing the biggest segment of the county’s homeless population had in common—98 percent of those surveyed—is that they said they’d move into “safe and affordable housing” if it were offered to them. And it’s affordability that had a major impact on people becoming homeless in the first place: 21 percent lost housing because of issues like eviction, rising rents, or foreclosure, and 80 percent said that more affordable housing and rental assistance could help them out of homelessness.

In a statement, city councilor Teresa Mosqueda, who was one of the sponsors of a head tax to fund housing and homeless services recently passed by city council, said that the good news is that we’re slowing the growth of homelessness in Seattle. But the bad news, said Mosqueda, is that “Seattle cannot prevent an increase the number of folks on the street without additional resources for housing. That is why we need new revenue.”

The Housing and Human Services department also released new numbers on Thursday, which we’ll be diving into shortly.