King County officials announce March unsheltered population count

Jan 20, 2022, 5:14 AM
unsheltered population...
The Downtown Emergency Service Center (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority (RHA) has announced that it will perform an unsheltered population head count in March of this year.

A key component of Seattle’s approach to addressing the homelessness crisis will be accurate data collection in order to best leverage federal and state funds for low-income housing and emergency shelter options.

A true picture of the current number of homeless individuals in King County has been delayed as COVID-19 has postponed the “point in time” count, which is usually the source the county and city uses to understand the size of its unsheltered population.

King County to skip annual homeless count in 2022, cites concerns over ‘harmful’ methodology

The announcement to resume the count came in an RHA report to the Seattle City Council’s Finance and Housing Committee on Jan. 19.

The RHA stressed the importance of having better data collection, as their latest unsheltered count is from 2020. A King County Department of Community and Human Services report shows that the county had 40,000 unsheltered people in 2020, down from 45,000 in 2019.

“We, as a policy priority, will be indexing against the 45,000 number, in part because we believe that the decline was more about people having fewer places to show up to be seen, basically as a result of the pandemic,” RHA Chief Executive Officer Marc Dones said in the council committee brief.

“We’ll continue to use that number as the baseline for the resources [we need] to go from here. That is more than three times the last point in time count number,” Dones added. “We continue to hold that our community needs to really strive towards better data collection and more granular data collection in order to really address our crisis.”

“We will be executing qualitative research and an unsheltered count in March.”

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell delivered some opening remarks for the RHA presentation, affirming a similar sentiment that transparency and data-driven solutions will be his approach to addressing homelessness and “fighting gentrification through anti poverty strategies.”

“If you look at the state’s budget this year, which is about a $62 billion supplemental budget that, as proposed by the governor, we have about $334 million in rapid capital housing,” Harrell said.

“There’s about $100 million in the Housing Trust Fund, another $50 million in behavioral health services, and about another $50 million in the outreach and remediation,” he noted.

Harrell referenced those numbers to make the point that, since he took office earlier this year, he has been making the case at the state and federal level that those resources are required to adequately address homelessness locally, a case contingent on accurate information about the realities of homelessness in the city.

“Our goal as the city of Seattle is … to make sure that the legislators understand that we need those resources. … I am doing everything possible to research and make sure that whatever comes out of [Washington], D.C., that they recognize the struggles that we have in Seattle.”

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King County officials announce March unsheltered population count