Housing and Homelessness

7 Big Takeaways from This Year's Homeless Count

The 116-page report outlined a number of important statistics that can inform the conversation around homelessness.

By Hayat Norimine June 1, 2017

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Image: Mike Kane

King County's Point-in-Time Count released Tuesday tallied 11,643 people experiencing homelessness. Of those, 5,485 were unsheltered (living on the streets, abandoned buildings, vehicles, or tents), and 2,773 were chronically homeless. 

This year the count, organized by the agency All Home, had a new method. It included about 160 guides, who were formerly homeless, with 600 volunteers divided up in roughly 200 teams. (The goal was to have one guide per team to help spot areas where the homeless could go that may not have been seen otherwise.)

It also covered a larger area of the county—396 of the 398 U.S. Census tracts. (The two excluded were in remote areas in the eastern part of the county, All Home director Matt Putnam told PubliCola.) Before this year, the count relied on intel from service providers and outreach workers on the locations of homeless encampments. 

The 116-page report outlined a number of important—though not surprising—statistics that can inform the conversation around homelessness. Here's a quick rundown of the biggest takeaways. 

1. Not Freeattle: Only 9 percent of those who responded to the survey last had housing somewhere out of state. More than three-quarters (77 percent) were housed in King County, and 10 percent in nearby Pierce and Snohomish counties. Those numbers run counter to the theory that Seattle's homeless services are attracting more homeless people from out of the area. 

2. Affordable housing is still considered the most important factor to reducing homelessness. When asked what would help them obtain permanent housing, 73 percent of survey respondents said more affordable housing or rental assistance; 44 percent also listed money for moving costs, and 42 percent included wanting an easier housing process. Ninety-two percent said they would accept safe and affordable housing if it were offered.

Losing a job was the most commonly reported cause of homelessness, with alcohol or drug use listed second. 

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3. People of color and the LGBTQ were disproportionately represented in the homeless count. Nearly 29 percent of total survey respondents were black, 14 percent Latino, 6 percent American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 15 percent multi-racial—all much higher than the county's general population. Eighteen percent identified as LGBTQ. 

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4. The youth homeless rates for LGBTQ and some minorities are worse. Of the unaccompanied children and young adults, from ages up to 24, 28 percent identified as LGBTQ; among those less than 25 years old, there were also larger representation of Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and multi-racial populations. Unaccompanied youth were also more likely to have been through systems of foster care or jail, and had higher rates of not accessing any services. 

5. And even worse is the domestic violence statistics among the LGBTQ. 58 percent of those who identified as LGBTQ said they experienced a history of domestic violence or partner abuse. It's also prevalent among families with children (54 percent) and unaccompanied youth and young adults (43 percent). Those groups also had a higher rate of listing domestic violence as the primary reason for their homelessness.

6. Single men need help too. Those who identified as male made up 65 percent of survey respondents, and 71 percent of those who are experiencing chronic homelessness. Many of them are done serving time, but can't get housing due to their records—from being "locked in to locked out," Putnam said. A stark 73 percent of those chronically homeless have been in jail, compared to 49 percent of nonchronically homeless.

Those who are chronically homeless also have more disabling conditions and substance abuse, and more likely listed those factors as the primary causes of their lost housing. 

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 7. What services do the homeless access? The majority of respondents (62 percent) said they access free meals. Bus passes are the second-most common at 44 percent. Only 32 percent reported using health services, 23 percent mental health services, and 16 percent drug and alcohol counseling. Six percent said they didn't use any services. When asked what barriers they had to accessing help, 26 percent listed lack of transportation. One out of four said they didn't know where to go.

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