Jan 11, 2024 - News

Washington had sixth-highest U.S. homelessness rate in 2023

Estimated homelessness rate, January 2023
Data: HUD; Map: Alice Feng/Axios

Washington had the sixth-highest rate of homelessness among U.S. states last year, per a recently released federal report, and homelessness here rose faster than the national rate in recent years.

Why it matters: Freezing temperatures are forecast to hit the Pacific Northwest this week, leaving the estimated 28,036 Washington residents experiencing homelessness — about half of whom live outside — especially vulnerable.

  • Gov. Jay Inslee has said getting more people indoors needs to be a focus of this year's state legislative session, which began Monday.

By the numbers: Last year, Washington had an estimated 36 people experiencing homelessness per 10,000 residents, per the annual report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

  • That's 27% higher than the state's homelessness rate in 2019, which was 28.3 per 10,000 residents.
  • Nationwide, the overall rate of homelessness rose by about 18% during the same period, from 17 per 10,000 residents to 20.

Of note: About half of Washington's homeless population lives in the Seattle-King County area, which had roughly 14,000 people experiencing homelessness last year, per the report.

Between the lines: HUD's annual report attempts to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night — in this case, in late January 2023.

  • That can offer a snapshot useful to policymakers, advocates, researchers and others.

Yes, but: Some advocates believe point-in-time counts can be misleading and may drastically underestimate the true number of unhoused people, as Axios Portland has reported.

The big picture: Nationwide, the reported number of people experiencing homelessness reached a record high in 2023, Axios' April Rubin reports, at about 653,100 people.

  • The federal report points out that many pandemic-era social safety net programs — such as income protections and eviction moratoriums — expired throughout the year.

Of note: Washington's 2023 homelessness rate was lower than New York's (52.4 per 10,000); Vermont's (50.9 per 10,000); Oregon's (47.5 per 10,000); California's (46.5 per 10,000); and Hawaii's (43.2 per 10,000).

  • Washington, D.C., had 73 people experiencing homelessness per 10,000 residents last year, more than double the rate in Washington state.

What we're watching: Local officials are conducting a new point-in-time count later this month, which will offer more insight about homelessness here.

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