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Full Seattle homeless count report shows who is on the street and why

A homeless encampment on public and private property near NW 46th Street in Seattle. (City of Seattle)

The latest homeless count for Seattle/King County showed that there are 11,199 people experiencing homelessness countywide, but the release of the full report offers a greater picture of who is on the streets and why.

Of those counted, an estimated 2,451 individuals were in families with children, 1,089 were unaccompanied youth, 830 were veterans, and 32 percent were identified as people of color.

Conducted in January by Count Us In, the count is considered a snapshot of the region’s homelessness, done with the understanding that it’s not a comprehensive picture, and that the numbers are likely greater, as indicated by studies that are year-round in nature.

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The report also broke down where many homeless are staying. Approximately 5,971 people were sheltered (which covers emergency shelters, safe havens and transitional housing), and 5,228 people unsheltered (living in vehicles, tents, or encampments). Specifically, 2,147 individuals were living in vehicles and 1,276 persons were living in tents/unsanctioned encampments.

While the number of those experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County decreased by 8 percent, emergency shelter residents went up 13 percent, partially due to the expansions of shelter capacity.

How people became homeless

The conditions which lead to that homelessness paints of a picture of where the city could better meet needs. Core issues include health conditions, housing issues, and lack of employment. Nearly two thirds (64 percent) of the homeless surveyed were living with at least one health condition. Psychiatric or emotional issues, post-traumatic stress, and drug or alcohol abuse all came in at 30 percent or above.

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Before becoming homeless, many (67 percent) had a residence of a some sort (either rented, owned, or staying with friends/relatives), and 31 percent said they lost it due to affordability, with 8 percent having been evicted. Additionally, job loss for 24 percent was often the primary cause of their homelessness, with 38 percent saying that they were currently looking for work.

The 2019 count showed a drop in the homeless count since 2012, but officials know there is yet much work to be done.

“This year’s results and our local system’s data indicate progress,” Kira Zylstra, Acting Director of All Home, said in a news release. “More people in our community are connected with services than ever before and permanent housing placements through our system continue to rise each year, yet more than 11,000 of our neighbors are without housing on any given night.”

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