Hundreds of volunteers canvassed King County in the early hours of Jan. 25, attempting to count unsheltered homeless people as part of the 2019 Count Us In point in time count.
The count took place between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. and was coordinated by All Home, a partnership between the county, nonprofits, shelters and housing providers. The count sought to quantify how many people were living unsheltered and those in shelters and transitional housing.
“Far too many of our neighbors are sleeping outdoors. Last year we moved more households out of homelessness and into permanent housing than in any year before. But, we know that it’s not enough and more people are falling into homelessness than before,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement.
Data collected all year shows the need for housing assistance in the county has grown over the past five years. That reflects, a press release said, years of diminishing affordable housing in Puget Sound. Point in time counts are required for municipalities to receive federal grants from the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development. A comprehensive report will be released in May.
The last count showed there was a 4-percent total increase in homelessness in King County between 2017 and 2018. However, the unsheltered population in the county increased by 835 people, or 15 percent, meaning the majority of people experiencing homelessness during last year’s point in time count were sleeping on the streets, in unofficial camps or in vehicles.
The largest increase was among people living in vehicles. In 2018 it was estimated there were more than 3,370 people living in vehicles, a 46-percent increase over the previous year. At the same time, people living in transitional housing decreased by 17 percent, which was in part due to moving people into permanent housing.
Homelessness is concentrated in Seattle, with more than 70 percent of the county’s unsheltered peoples living in the city. Southwest King County had the second highest levels of unsheltered people with about 20 percent of the total. The rest of the county, including the Eastside, had a combined total of about 10 percent of unsheltered people.
The region has struggled to adequately address homelessness as housing prices and rents have skyrocketed in recent years while wages for many people have not increased to keep pace.