According to stats available from the King County Committee to End Homelessness, 8349 individuals were counted as homeless in Seattle on a single night in January. Almost 6000 had scored beds in shelters or in transitional housing for that night, and the rest – over 3000 – bedded down on the streets, in doorways, or under highway overpasses. Hundreds, perhaps thousands more were uncounted because they avoided the volunteers who were counting, bunked for the night on a couch at a relative’s house, or slept outside city limits.
36% of the homeless population consisted of single adult men; 13% were single adult women; 1% were unaccompanied youth; and 50% were families with children. Half of all the individuals in King County’s shelters are children aged 0-17 – an especially dire statistic for anyone who cares about the future.
What are the chief causes of homelessness in our region?
- Shortages of affordable housing. Less than 1% of King County’s apartments are affordable to families with incomes lower than 30% of median income ($23,350 for a family of 4). Even if both parents work full time, two minimum-wage jobs can’t cover housing as well as food, transportation, etc. It takes an income of $17-$21/hour to pay for a 2-bedroom apartment at our County’s average rental rate of $985/month.
- Poverty due to low wages or unemployment. People who can’t afford all the necessities – housing, utilities, transportation, children’s needs, health care, food – must make triage decisions. Homelessness is one possible result.
- Domestic violence. Of the more than 7000 homeless individuals counted in January 2007, 1000 young people and women (some with young children) said that violence in their homes was a major reason why they were homeless.
- Psychiatric disorders, chemical addictions, and other illnesses. 20-25% of homeless Americans have a severe mental illness that has gone untreated. Statistics on homeless people are less certain, but many are addicted to drugs or alcohol and remain untreated. The rates of other chronic and acute health problems in this population are high.
- The institutional revolving door. People are discharged from hospitals, prisons, and jails right back to the streets again, with no plan or support for stability or shelter.
- Legal barriers. People who lack proper documentation or who were convicted of felonies in the past are denied access to subsidized housing programs. Land use and zoning regulations can block the development of affordable housing.
- Higher barriers for people of color. In Seattle, median household income and home-ownership are significantly lower for people of color than for whites. More than half the children in King County foster care are children of color, and statistics show that people who spent time in foster care as children are more likely than others to experience homelessness.
- Absence of family or community support. For people lacking a stable network of family and friends, a single crisis (car breakdown, child’s illness, downsized job) can spiral down into homelessness, and without such a network the chances of making it back into housing are low.
Learn more about area homelessness and what you can do about it at The King County Committee to End Homelessness. You can also support public policy initiatives such as renewing the Seattle Housing Levy, a successful city program since 1981 (Yes on Prop. 1 in November!).
As individuals, you can make a small difference on your own by treating homeless persons with dignity. Please see: