Timeline: Understanding Seattle’s homeless issues

Jul 4, 2018, 8:46 AM | Updated: May 20, 2019, 4:41 pm


Bicycles remain stacked against a support post for Interstate 5 above as crime scene tape surrounds the site of a shooting the night before at a homeless encampment in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Homelessness is a multi-faceted issue in the Puget Sound region with a deep history that impacts both the housed and unsheltered. It often seems there’s no solution. MyNorthwest has put together a short — relative to the issue — timeline with the stories we’ve covered to help our readers better understand homelessness as we know it.

As early as 1904, The Seattle Times described a place called “Shacktown” in the tideflats west of Pioneer Square. According to the Times, that community stretched along most of the old waterfront, from “Spokane Avenue toward Denny Way.” Read more.

Of course, much has changed in the 100 or more years that would follow. See below:

May 2005
King County and community partners came together and launched a 10-year plan aimed at ending homelessness. The Committee to End Homelessness said it was “committed to making homelessness in King County rare, brief in duration, and a one-time occurrence.” Read more.

March 2009
Not associated with Tent Cities, which are allowed on privately donated land (mostly churches), residents of a tent city located south of Seattle were tired of being cleared out. They criticized the mayor, Greg Nickels, for their displacement and renamed their camp “Nickelsville.” Read more.

April 26, 2013
A neighbor to Nickelsville filed a claim against the City of Seattle for damages. Read more.

June 24, 2013
The City of Seattle planned to spend $500,000 to close down the illegal camp of homeless people known as “Nickelsville” and find them different places to live. The city council voted unanimously to contract with a non-profit organization to provide campers with shelter and other services. Read more.

July 30, 2013
The Seattle City Council rejected a proposal to increase the number of homeless tent camps around the city, dealing a blow to supporters who wanted to expand areas where camps like Nickelsville could be located. Read more.

Sept. 12, 2014
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray revealed a plan to address homelessness in the City of Seattle. The plan includes $3.3 million in funding to hire 50 new officers by the end of next year and $2.5 million for human services, including $1.5 million to help the city’s homeless transition out of shelters and into permanent housing.  Read more

May 2015
King County’s 10-year plan to end homelessness comes to an end. King County says the community was successful in ending homelessness for 40,000 people, but 10,000 more are experiencing homelessness on any given day. Read more.

Jan. 26, 2016
Three men allegedly opened fire in The Jungle under I-5, killing two people and injuring three more. Read more.

Feb. 1, 2016
Seattle police officers arrested three male teenage suspects in connection to a fatal shooting at an illegal homeless camp — The Jungle — in South Seattle. Read more.

Feb. 17, 2016
Crime, drugs, fire, and a potential public health disaster are all major concerns for the estimated 400 people living in Seattle’s most notorious homeless camp, The Jungle. Read more.

Feb. 19, 2016
The City of Seattle opened its first permanent lot set aside for RV residents in Ballard. Many RVs were parked at a temporary lot about a mile away. Read more.

March 11, 2016
A homeless encampment sweep began at Nickelsville, the infamous Dearborn encampment, adding another chapter in a contentious spat between campers and former Nickelsville management. Read more.

March 31, 2016
The City of Seattle halted plans to open a second RV safe lot in Delridge after seeing how much it costs to run the first lot in Ballard. That cost, after nearly $25,000 in setup costs, totals about $35,000 each month. Read more.

June 2, 2016
Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw announced she would like people to stop calling the illegal homeless encampment located under I-5 as the “Jungle,” but rather call it the “I-5 East Duwamish Greenbelt.” The name never really caught on outside city council chambers. Read more.

June 8, 2016
A two-week effort to clean up Seattle’s “Jungle” has gained momentum, but without a deadline, the homeless returned. Read more.

Aug. 25, 2016
Homeless advocates drafted their own homeless ordinance in hopes the city council would consider during budget discussions. It would prohibit the City of Seattle from shutting down homeless encampments if they pose no harm and allow people to camp in public spaces throughout the city. Read more.

Sept. 2, 2016
Seattle’s business community took a stand against a proposed homeless ordinance that aims to allow individuals to camp in public spaces. According to the City of Seattle’s municipal code, camping in public spaces is prohibited: “It is unlawful to camp in any park except at places set aside and posted for such purposes by the Superintendent.” Read more.

Oct. 11, 2016
There was an officer-involved shooting at Seattle’s infamous Jungle homeless encampment during a time when officials were moving the last homeless residents out of the area. A man that a Seattle police officer shot died. Read more.

Oct. 12, 2016
A petition urges the city council to wait at least six months before voting on Council Bill 118794 so that the city can further study the impacts it would have. The bill would open city parks and some sidewalks to tent camping. Read more.

Oct. 17, 2016
Another shooting near Seattle’s recently cleaned out “Jungle” left one man in critical condition. Read more.

Jan. 20, 2016
The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd donated land to host a tiny house village. In partnership with Nickelsville, they planned to put together 14 tiny houses to move people off the streets and into a more permanent solution. Read more.

June 23, 2016
Kshama Sawant says she doesn’t want “dire statistics” to lead to the greenbelt under and around I-5 being cleared out. Instead, she said she wants to see it cleaned up and the approximately 400 people living there receive much-needed services. Read more.

Aug. 23, 2016
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray hired the city’s first director of homelessness, George Scarola. Read more.

Sept. 8, 2016
The message from experts given to a Seattle City Council committee was that the Seattle homeless crisis could be mostly fixed in a year. Focus Strategies and Barbara Poppe presented results from their individual assessments of the Seattle homeless crisis, current approaches, and what the city can do to solve it. Read more.

Sept. 22, 2016
Seattle won’t get to systematic, long-term homeless solutions for about two years, according to City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. Read more.

Jan. 27, 2017
More than 300,000 pounds of debris has been removed from under I-5 after hundreds of homeless people moved out of the encampment known as the “Jungle.” Read more.

Feb. 21, 2017
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he wants to increase property taxes to generate more money for the city’s homelessness crisis. Murray said he formed an advisory group for how to raise $55 million for homelessness. Read more.

March 3, 2017
A city-funded survey found that 12.8 percent of people in a city-wide survey are from out of state. A total of 11.2 percent come from Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston counties. Read more.

March 8, 2017
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray outlined a $275 million property-tax levy for homelessness. The $275 million raised over five years would also be used to expand shelters and treatment services as well as pump more resources into the newly created navigation team. Read more.

April 3, 2017
A month later, Mayor Ed Murray dumped his plans for a $275 million property-tax levy to fight homelessness. Instead, he teamed up with King County for a proposed .01 percent sales tax. The levy would eventually fall off the radar. Read more.

July 12, 2017
Seattle opened its enhanced homeless ‘navigation center’ shelter where 75 people will be at the center for stays of up to two months. It’s a first for Seattle, modeled after a center in San Francisco. On-site case managers will connect people to services and long-term housing. Read more.

Nov. 1, 2017
Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess, the city’s firefighter union, and nine officials urged the city council not go through with a ban of homeless encampment sweeps. The city council was crafting the 2018 budget and setting policy for the upcoming year. Within the budget draft is a ban on sweeping unsanctioned homeless encampments on public property. Read more.

Nov. 27, 2017
Mayor Tim Burgess said the Human Services Department will fund 30 agencies to help move people into permanent housing. Those agencies plan to use the $34 million awarded to move more than twice as many people into housing in 2018 than in 2017. Read more.

Dec. 2017
Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus came together to form “One Table,” a regional approach to homelessness. Since then, more city leaders, businesses, and nonprofits have signed on, including Amazon, Expedia, mayors of Bellevue and Kirkland, United Way of King County, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They released details in June 2018. Read more.

March 12, 2018
Bike racks under Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct that faced heavy scrutiny for being anti-homeless were removed. Read more.

March 14, 2018
The Seattle City Council approved its controversial head tax. The amended head tax reduces the amount businesses pay per employee from $500 to $275 per year, with a sunset clause of 2023. The amendment to the original bill passed 8-1. The final head tax vote — on the lower amount — was unanimous. The tax will target businesses grossing more than $20 million per year. It will raise approximately $50 million for low-income housing, homeless shelters and emergency services. Read more.

April 5, 2018
A woman was found dead in her RV parked at Seattle’s last safe-zone for vehicle residents, according to The Seattle Times. Sabrina Tate was one of 10 people living in the industrial lot in SoDo near the Spokane Street viaduct. The un-fenced site houses rows of RVs and is the only city-sanctioned place in Seattle where the homeless can park long-term without being ticketed.  Read more.

June 4, 2018
An ordinance, Council Bill 118794, relating to Seattle’s responses to people who are living on public property was retired. It would have “set standards and procedures for remedying unsafe conditions and protecting the rights and property of homeless individuals.” Read more.

June 12, 2018
Just under a month after unanimously approving a head tax on businesses earning more than $20 million per year, the council repealed the tax with a 7-2 vote. Read more.

Oct. 2, 2018
Seattle is increasing its homeless shelter capacity this month, with 97 new places for people to stay. KIRO 7 reports that volunteers have already been constructing a tiny home village in South Lake Union. Read more.

Dec. 17, 2018
Homelessness in Seattle rose 4 percent, while the nation’s levels only increased 0.3 percent, according to The Seattle Times. The city is now spending $90 million on homelessness.

Dec. 19, 2018
King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan outlined plans to form a single, independent entity to combat homelessness. Read more.

March 2019
King County opened a wing in its Seattle jail to house homeless. The new enhanced shelter opened March 31 and occupies a wing that previously housed offices, classrooms, and a work release space. Read more.

April 3, 2019
If September’s Ninth Circuit Court ruling determined that people experiencing homelessness can indeed sleep on the sidewalk, and in other public spaces, then this week’s decision cements it. The Supreme Court ruled that it’s unconstitutional to punish people for sleeping on the street if they have nowhere else to go — or not enough shelters. Read more.

May 2, 2019
King County noted its highest drop in homeless people since 2012. According to the latest homeless count for Seattle/King County, there are 11,199 people experiencing homelessness countywide. Read more.

May 7, 2019
Meanwhile, the latest point-in-time count in Snohomish County indicates a 26 percent increase in homelessness over last year, and the highest number of homeless counted since 2012. Read more.

This is an ongoing list of events as they relate to homelessness in the Puget Sound region. Please contact us at with questions or concerns. Please note this page will be edited to reflect changes.

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Timeline: Understanding Seattle’s homeless issues