In the early morning hours of Friday, January 23rd, volunteers spread across King County in order to complete the One Night Count. This annual census is a critical part of the effort to end homelessness in the Puget Sound. The results were pretty grim.
Volunteers counted 3,772 people outside, unsheltered. This is a 21% increase from the 3,123 people counted in 2014. A large portion of this increase is likely from including two new locations, Southwest King County and Vashon Island. These two additions accounted for 219 people. In one regard, the Coalition to End Homlessness deserves a lot of credit for organizing enough volunteers to cover additional areas. Excluding the areas, there were still 3,553 people sleeping without shelter, nearly a 14% increase from 2014.
Seattle’s Numbers Look Poor Nationally
When compared to efforts in other cities, Seattle’s homeless population is heading in the opposite direction. The official national statistics compiled by HUD have only been published through 2013. In the last ranking, Seattle had the third largest homeless population, behind New York and Los Angeles, but ahead of many larger cities.
Changes in the number of areas covered and volunteers mobilized can have a big impact on the number of people counted, but even with this taken into account, Seattle doesn’t fair well. Homelessness appears to be declining nationally, down nearly 9% from 2007 to 2013, and many cities have been touting their declining numbers. San Diego reduced its count of homeless population 4% between 2013 and 2014, even though more volunteers participated in the count. Salt Lake City and Phoenix have both declared they successfully ended chronic homelessness among veterans.
Still, there are many cities with an increasing homeless population, including Washington, DC and Las Vegas, which may both surpass Seattle’s total homeless population when HUD files its 2014 report to Congress.
The final results from 2015 will include people counted in shelters and are not yet published. This number will give a better picture of the change in the total number of homeless King County residents. Additionally, the effort to end homelessness is ongoing. There are a number of legislative battles that are important, such as investing $100 million in the Washington state housing trust fund and changing laws to allow people with criminal records to obtain housing. There are a lot of ways people can help, including donating, understanding the causes of homelessness, sending this postcard to the state legislature, and/or signing up for action alerts to help with next year’s One Night Count.