May 17, 2024 - News

King County homeless count rises

A tent is set up near roads and a chain link fence with Seattle in the background.

A tent encampment near the Jose Rizal Bridge in Seattle. Photo: Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 16,000 people experienced homelessness in King County on any given night this year, 23% more than were counted two years ago, according to new data released this week.

Why it matters: Washington had the sixth-highest rate of homelessness among states last year, with a rate that was 27% higher than in 2019, per a separate 2023 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

  • During that same period, the nationwide homelessness rate rose by about 18%, per the HUD report.

Zoom in: The latest data, released Wednesday by the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, comes from a 12-day point-in-time count at the beginning of this year.

  • Staff with the regional authority and volunteers interviewed people at encampments, day centers and hubs such as libraries.

The latest: The new numbers come just as the regional authority cut $21 million from its 2025 budget at the behest of the city of Seattle, leading to the potential loss of several hundred shelter beds and prevention funding, per the Seattle Times.

What they're saying: The mayor's office said it will continue to partner with the regional authority to reduce unsheltered homelessness and improve the homelessness response system, said city spokesperson Callie Craighead.

  • "We understand the magnitude of this issue is significant, and this provides another data point to that end," Craighead said in an emailed statement.

What they're saying: The regional authority's interim CEO, Darrell Powell, said homelessness has been growing across the country since 2017 and is especially acute in cities like Seattle where housing prices have been rising, the Puget Sound Business Journal reported.

  • "The system is serving more people with more efficiency, but the displacement into homelessness is growing at a faster pace than the response system. Simply put, there's a need for more resources," Powell said.
  • In a draft plan released at the beginning of last year, the authority called for $25.5 billion in funding over five years, including $8 billion for capital costs and $3.5 billion in annual operational costs.

The other side: In a written statement Wednesday, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn said the numbers show that the regional homelessness authority's approach isn't working.

The big picture: Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, told Axios the numbers should shock no one.

  • Housing costs are rising and while homeless service providers are effective at helping people, the drivers of homelessness are outside their control, she said.
  • She hopes policymakers take the data "to heart and understand that they need to do more and invest more to get better outcomes for our city. Cuts won't cut it."
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