Homelessness in Seattle

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In the Seattle King County area, there are about 12,500 homeless people living on the streets or in shelters.[1] On January 23, 2018, the street count of homeless individuals was 6320 (2015 = 3,772), the number of homeless individuals in Emergency Shelters was 3,585 (2015 = 3,282), and the number of homeless individuals in transitional housing was 2,285 (2015 = 2,993), for a total count of 12,112 (2015 = 10,047) homeless people.[1] The percentages by race of those living in shelters consisted of: African American 40%, White 31%, Hispanic 12%, Multi-racial 6%, Asian/Pacific Islander 4%, Native American 2%, with 5% unknown.[2] The trends show that combined efforts of Puget Sound, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, to provide shelter, healthcare and other help for the homeless are having a positive impact, but that the numbers experiencing homelessness in the region are continuing to climb. This has led some members of the community to complain that the city's response is inadequate..[3]

Annual One Night Count[edit]

In many cities and communities around the United States, volunteers and service workers count the number of people sleeping without adequate shelter—whether on the streets, in a vehicle, in makeshift shelters and tents, under roads, under freeway ramps, and the like—in one overnight period.[4] However, it is acknowledged that such counts cannot count all homeless people, nor cover all areas of the city.

The yearly One Night Count of the Homeless (ONC) in the Seattle and King County area is coordinated by Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness(SKCCH)[5] in coordination with other local social service providers, including The Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), The Compass Center, United Way of King County, and others. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH), along with Operation Nightwatch, has organized Seattle/King County's one night count since 1980. Its website claims that "King County has one of the nation's best-established point-in-time counts of homeless people, and the One Night Count that is coordinated by that group is the largest community-organized effort" in the country.[6]

The One Night Count from 2010 through 2018 for those living without shelter are as follows:

Year Count Citation
2010 2,759 [7]
2011 2,442 [8]
2012 2,594 [9]
2013 2,736 [10]
2014 3,123 [11]
2015 3,772 [12]
2016 4,505 [13]
2017 5,485 [14]
2018 6,320 [2]

The One Night Count collects figures for those in shelters and transitional housing and releases those figures as well. In 1999, the count of homeless persons living both in and out of shelters in King County was 5,900. In 2000, the count was 6,900 homeless people; in 2001, 7,350; in 2002, 7,980; in 2003, 8,000; in 2004, 8,300; in 2006, 7,919; in 2007, 7,839; and in 2008, 8,439.[15][16] In 2012, the One Night Count tallied 8,830 homeless people in King County, including those in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs. This number is essentially unchanged since 2009. In 2014, the figure was 9,294 people,[11] and in 2015, the figure was about 10,300 people (3,772 counted outside, plus about 6,500 in shelters, transitional housing, and so on).[12]

Problems faced by homeless people[edit]

Medical problems[edit]

Many homeless people have health problems. Diabetes is a common ailment. Many homeless people do not seek or cannot afford adequate healthcare. In 2003, 47% of homeless individuals had one chronic condition. Health conditions among homeless persons in the Seattle area have included a history of alcohol or substance abuse; more than half had a cardiovascular disease; and a quarter had a mental health issue. Common causes of death among homeless people in the Seattle area include intoxication, cardiovascular disease, and homicide. In 2003, the average age of death of a homeless person was 47.[17][18]


In December 2007, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a measure prohibiting malicious harassment of a homeless person and declaring the act a misdemeanor. This law makes it illegal to damage a homeless person's personal items as well.[19][20]


As of 2018, the estimated total cost of homelessness in the region was estimated at about one billion dollars per year, including medical, police, and all nonprofit and governmental efforts at all levels. This number is unverified.[21] The City of Seattle 2020 Budget directly allocated $80 million for the Division of Homeless Strategy and Investment[22]

The City of Seattle, King County, and the United Way of King County are the participants in the Seattle and King County Coalition on Homelessness. They are combining and coordinating efforts to respond to and end homelessness, while spending carefully. This coordinated effort is a response to previous findings from the Committee to End Homelessness in King County and the Ten year plan to End Homelessness, where committed organizations, including the United Way of King County, local businesses, faith based communities, housing organizations and human services organizations, studied the causes and solutions to homelessness.[citation needed]

Share/Wheel is self-help organization run by many homeless residents of Seattle. Share/Wheel has created 4 Tent Cities through the years. The first Tent City set up in 1990 at the Goodwill Games. It later became a self-managed homeless shelter at a Metro bus barn. It eventually moved to the Aloha Inn and created a self-managed transitional housing program. Tent City 2 was established on Beacon Hill in what would later become known as The Jungle, against the objections of the City of Seattle. Eviction notices were posted on the tents on July 2. Four days later on July 6, while most of the residents met with City Council member Peter Steinbrueck (who was attempting to delay action against the settlement), the Police bulldozed the camp site and private possessions.[23][24]

Tent City 3 was created on March 31, 2000, on private land. The police did not intervene, but the City of Seattle sued the host over unpaid permit fees. Share/Wheel and the City of Seattle settled out of court with a Consent Decree[25]"[26] after a Superior Court judge warned the City that it would lose the case. Tent City 3 moves from location to location every 60–90 days. Tent City 4 split from Tent City 3 and shifts from place to place on the East side of Lake Washington. Tent cities shelter homeless persons who can not or do not wish to attend a public shelter for various reasons. The City of Seattle does not approve of these tent cities.[27] Effective March 13, 2012, the Consent Decree between Share/Wheel and the City of Seattle ended. Tent City 3 has been studied extensively, and is noted by many in the United States to be an encampment that works.[28]

There are other encampments in the Seattle area:

  • Nickelsville: formed in 2008 in protest over the policies of Mayor Nickels, whom they believed was encouraging the police to assault, injure, and browbeat the homeless. It has no formal connection to Share/Wheel.
  • United We Stand: capacity 35 people, which split from Tent City 3 in late 2014.[29][30]
  • Camp Unity Eastside: capacity 100 people, on the east side of Lake Washington in King County, which split from Tent City 4 in late 2012.[31][32]

There are homeless shelters across the Seattle area that provide beds, meals, showers, and laundry services. Some shelters in the Seattle area require their residents to leave the shelter between 5 and 7 A.M.[citation needed]

In addition to sanctioned homeless encampments, Seattle philanthropists have also become involved with serving the disenfranchised. The Seattle Block Project builds tiny homes in volunteers' backyards to house a single vetted individual. The goal of the project is to give a person a second chance. The project offers the opportunity for stability and safety, while asking the community to be involved in both donating space and labor. Through housing an individual and asking others to participate in the project the return is twofold, a person gets a safe place to live, and a community comes together to help the homeless. The Aurora Commons is a private effort to provide services to the homeless on Aurora Avenue North.

Operation Sack Lunch[edit]

Operation Sack Lunch is a city-funded outdoor feeding program begun in 2007, located under the Interstate 5 viaduct at Columbia street in downtown Seattle. In 2012, Seattle Human Services Director Danette Smith said that because of poor conditions under the freeway, it should close or move indoors.[33][34] The program's operators said it could not continue at all if forced to move indoors, and no indoor location was found during three years of discussion over the fate of the program, with some Seattle city council members resisting efforts to move it indoors.[35][36][37] In fall of 2012, a transition program was recommended by a Mayor-appointed Task Force.[38]

Income sources[edit]

Real Change news is a newspaper sold by homeless street vendors; they buy the paper for 60 cents and sell it for 2 dollars. The Real Change has increased in sales by 41% since 2007. An increase in vendors was also recorded, growing from approximately 230 to 350 vendors in one month.[17]

In 2009, income resources used by homeless persons included: 558 homeless persons who received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), 481 receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), 355 received general assistance (GAU), 233 had other sources of income, 142 were on general assistance (GAX), 49 received unemployment compensation, 21 received income through the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Act (ADATSA), and 590 homeless persons had an unknown source of income.[citation needed]

Seattle is Dying documentary[edit]

In 2019 KOMO-TV aired the hour-long documentary Seattle Is Dying written and reported by Eric Johnson, exploring homelessness in Seattle.[39][40] Johnson said local authorities did not provide effective responses to the problems as he identified them, and said some law enforcement officials were not helping to address what the Johnson said were ongoing issues.[41][42][43] Several Seattle media outlets and homelessness advocates criticized KOMO and Johnson for what they said was an inaccurate and biased picture of the issues, and that the contents of the documentary were motivated by the right-wing agenda of the nationwide Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has little interest in local Seattle politics but benefits from spreading a negative image of the liberal, west-coast city.[44][45][46] Tim Harris of Real Change called it "misery porn".[47]

The documentary said there is a homelessness crisis in Seattle and said the causes include a lack of an urban social policy and the rampant drug use.[43] Johnson advocated for a set of solutions, and said that local officials failed to engage with what he said were documented problems.[48][49]

KOMO TV said their documentary was effective in influencing Seattle officials.[50] Another of Sinclair's properties, KRCR-TV, said officials in Shasta County, California, have also responded to the documentary, and that they are taking measures to combat similar issues they face in their region.[51]

Some advocates[weasel words] for the homeless have argued[weasel words] that the documentary focuses too heavily on issues such as drug use, countering that the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing are at the core of homelessness.[52]

Pete Holmes, the Seattle City Attorney, criticized the documentary, defending the city's efforts on drug crimes and homelessness.[53][54][55]


  1. ^ a b "One Night Count". www.homelessinfo.org. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "2018 Count Us In Report" (PDF). allhomekc.org. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  3. ^ "Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness". www.homelessinfo.org.
  4. ^ Dawdy, Philip (April 19, 2006). "Back to the Task at Hand". Seattle Weekly.
  5. ^ Cydney, Gillis. "Law maker to seek hate crime status for attacks on homeless." Real change News.org. Real change News, November 4, 2009. Web. November 18, 2009.
  6. ^ Homelessness, Seattle/King County Coalition on. "One Night Count". www.homelessinfo.org.
  7. ^ [1] 2011 One Night Count results
  8. ^ [2] 2011 One Night Count results
  9. ^ [3] SKCCH One Night Count 2012 results.
  10. ^ [4] 2013 One Night Count Results.
  11. ^ a b [5] 2014 One Night Count Results.
  12. ^ a b [6] 2015 One Night Count Results.
  13. ^ "One Night Count". www.homelessinfo.org. Archived from the original on June 12, 2016. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  14. ^ [7]
  15. ^ [8]
  16. ^ [9]
  17. ^ a b Blanchard, Jessica (December 14, 2004). "Homeless people studied died at average age of 47". The Seattle Times.
  18. ^ Painter, Alan. "The Greater Seattle Datasheet." City of Seattle. Net. Seattle.gov, December 16, 2004. Web. November 18, 2009.
  19. ^ Painter, Alan. "Ten Year plan to end Homelessness." Seattle. Gov. Seattle.gov, December 16, 2004. Web. November 18, 2009
  20. ^ Evan Bush (April 6, 2017). "How Seattle police, local prosecutors address and investigate hate crimes". The Seattle Times.
  21. ^ "The Price of Homelessness". www.bizjournals.com. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  22. ^ "City of Seattle Budget for Addressing Homelessness". openbudget.seattle.gov.
  23. ^ http://hpn.asu.edu/archives/Jul98/0006.html
  24. ^ "'Jungle' Bulldozed; 8 Arrested". community.seattletimes.nwsource.com.
  25. ^ Consent Decree Consent Decree
  26. ^ Tent City 3 Tent City 3
  27. ^ Gregory J, Nickels. "Housing first approach to Homelessness Brings hope to hard lives." City of Seattle 1. 9 (2008): N. web 10/11. 2009
  28. ^ [10] Tent City primer
  29. ^ [11] United We Stand at Richmond Beach UCC
  30. ^ [12] United We Stand splits from Tent City 3
  31. ^ [13] Camp Unite Eastside
  32. ^ [14] Tent City dispute
  33. ^ [15] Operation Sack Lunch saved
  34. ^ [16] Danette Smith discusses depriving homeless of meals
  35. ^ "King 5 News".
  36. ^ [17] Operation Sack Lunch newsletter, Spring 2012
  37. ^ [18] Godden about Operation Sack Lunch
  38. ^ [19] OSL newsletter, Fall 2012
  39. ^ Turnquist, Kristi (March 19, 2019). "TV documentary about Seattle's homeless crisis sparks debate, Portland comparisons". oregonlive.com. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  40. ^ Maciborski, Walt (July 3, 2019). "Seattle's homeless problem could be harbinger of things to come in Austin". KEYE. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  41. ^ Turnquist, Kristi (July 4, 2019). "Controversial documentary about Seattle's homeless crisis will air on KATU". oregonlive.com. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  42. ^ Day, Matt; Buhayar, Noah (June 10, 2019). "Amazon Led a Tax Rebellion. A Year Later, Seattle Is Gridlocked". www.bloomberg.com. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  43. ^ a b Fowler, Jack (April 8, 2019). "'What if Seattle Is Dying, and We Don't Even Know It?'". National Review. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  44. ^ "Connelly: Seattle is not perfect, but Seattle is not dying - SFChronicle.com". www.seattlepi.com. March 24, 2019. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  45. ^ Beason, Tyrone (April 1, 2019), "As we vent over homelessness in our 'jewel' of a city, let's not forget our shared humanity", The Seattle Times
  46. ^ Kroman, David (March 28, 2019), Man used as proof that ‘Seattle Is Dying' tells his story Robert Champagne says KOMO's special inaccurately portrayed him. To start, he hasn't been homeless for more than three years.
  47. ^ Harris, Tim (March 20, 2019), "KOMO asserts Seattle is dying with misery porn", Real Change News
  48. ^ Valdez, Roger. "Seattle Isn't Dying Yet, But The Latest Debate Might Kill It". Forbes. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  49. ^ News, Matt Markovich | KOMO (March 19, 2019). "Local officials react to KOMO News Special". KOMO. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  50. ^ News, Keith Eldridge | KOMO (March 22, 2019). "Lawmakers highlight efforts to address issues raised in 'Seattle is Dying' documentary". KOMO. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  51. ^ Brown, Dylan (July 10, 2019). "Shasta County officials respond to film Seattle is Dying". KRCR. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  52. ^ Seattle homeless documentary draws criticism in Portland, KATU, 2019-03-22
  53. ^ Holmes, Pete. "Seattle Isn't Dying". seattle.gov.
  54. ^ Brunner, Jim; Beekman, Daniel (April 1, 2019). "Podcast: Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes defends efforts on drug crimes and homelessness". The Seattle Times.
  55. ^ Kaste, Martin (July 12, 2019). "Seattle Faces Backlash After Easing Up On Punishing Crimes Involving Mental Illness". NPR.

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