The 2019 homelessness count in King County was released last week showing an overall decrease in people experiencing homelessness. The overall decrease was 17 percent, down to 11,199 people.
While there has been progress in addressing homelessness, it is still affecting people of color more severely. The count held in January found the majority of those experiencing homelessness identified as people of color. Black or African Americans made up 32 percent of those experiencing homelessness despite making up only 6 percent of the King County’s population.
Hispanic and Latinos accounted for 15 percent of the homeless population while making up 10 percent of the total population. American Indian and Alaskan Native peoples were 10 percent of the homeless population while accounting for only about 1 percent of the total.
The Native American homeless population in particular jumped from 3 percent last year to 10 percent, and Native Americans living in cities face unique challenges to finding housing, according to the county. However, some of the increase may be due to the county finding more accurate ways to identify Native Americans experiencing homelessness, said Kira Zylstra, executive director for All Home, which coordinates the point in time count. And while there has been an overall decrease, there are still more than 11,000 people experiencing homelessness.
“Really what this tells us is that we are continuing to struggle with the crisis,” she said.
Areas where there has been progress include reducing the number of veterans and minors experiencing homelessness. Those groups have seen decreases over the past two years. Zylstra credited that decrease to three key elements working together.
In order for a strategy to be effective, there needs to be strong collaboration between service providers, local governments and partner agencies coupled with finding homeless people and working with them on a personal level. Also as important is having the funding to target different demographics to provide them with services. Federal grants are available for veterans and youths, which played a large role in reducing the number of unsheltered young people and veterans, Zylstra said.
“We’ve really had just an exciting marshaling of support from our community since the receipt of our federal dollars,” she said.
The count found 47 percent of people experiencing homelessness were living unsheltered, compared to 52 percent in 2018. However, there was a 32 percent increase of those living in tents or encampments, even as the number of those living in vehicles decreased by 36 percent.
The number of people living in emergency shelters also increased by 13 percent over last year as the number of people living in transitional housing decreased by 14 percent. That was partially due to new emergency shelter capacity and expansions opening, along with five Seattle tiny house villages being reclassified as emergency shelters instead of being unsheltered.
On the Eastside, the number of people living unsheltered was 337, far less than the nearly 3,560 in Seattle or the 1,084 in southwest King County. Some 2,451 people were thought to be families with children representing roughly 763 households. About 830 people experiencing homelessness were veterans.
In addition to people of color, LGBTQ people were also more likely to experience homelessness. About 25 percent of those in the count identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer, according to the report.
A majority of homeless people in the county also had some sort of health condition with 36 percent saying they had psychiatric or emotional conditions, followed by 35 percent with PTSD and 32 percent with drug or alcohol dependency.
Of the respondents in the count, three-quarters said they needed rental assistance and more affordable housing to get off the streets, while 41 percent said they needed a job or more income. Some 38 percent were looking for work, and 18 percent said they were unable to work due to age or medical conditions.
Creating more housing will remain an important focus, Zylstra said.
“We need to ensure an adequate supply of housing to create pathways out of homelessness,” she said.