Homelessness may be trending down after seven years

A press release from the annual count showed a reduction in people living without a home.

A preliminary release from the 2019 point in time homelessness count shows the number of people experiencing homelessness in King County has dropped for the first time since 2012.

The press release was issued by All Home, Seattle and the county following a point in time count this January. The count found there were 11,199 people who were homeless across the county, with 5,971 living in shelters and 5,228 people unsheltered. That’s an 8-percent overall decrease from 2018 and a 17-percent decrease among unsheltered people. The full report will be complete by the end of the month and will include geographic data and analysis.

Although the counts generally don’t find every person experiencing homelessness it does provide useful data for lawmakers, researchers and governments. The count found there was a decrease across all groups of homelessness, including families which saw a 7-percent reduction, veterans with a 10-percent drop and unaccompanied youth and young adults for a 28-percent decrease.

“We know that we look to this to tell trends over time because it’s certainly an estimate,” said Kira Zylstra, acting director of All Home.

The press release did not mention homelessness rates for other demographics including Native Americans or African Americans, groups which have become homeless at disproportionate rates. Native Americans were found to make up less than 1 percent of King County’s population but accounted for nearly 6 percent of its homeless population, a report from the Seattle Times found in 2018. Further data will be included in the full report due by the end of May.

At the same time as those living unsheltered decreased, the number of people in shelters went up, which the press release credited to people getting connected to services and more than 530 shelter beds being created in 2018. Over the past three years there were nearly 18,000 people who found housing, but the rate at which people are becoming homeless outpaces existing housing resources, the report said.

Zylstra said organizations in the county have been focusing on a housing first approach and including services along with that. And while the point in time count found fewer people experiencing homelessness, she said that may not correlate to perceptions people have in the area.

“This is not the felt reality of our community, the visibility of homelessness and the felt reality of the crisis is still very prominent,” Zylstra said.

The 2018 report found there were 12,112 people experiencing homelessness in the county and 11,643 in 2017. While there were fewer people experiencing homelessness in the 2019 count, it was still higher than the 10,688 counted in 2016.

Pierce County also saw a reduction in homelessness in 2019, with a decrease of 14 percent from 1,628 in 2018 to 1,486 this January. Snohomish County has not released information from its 2019 count.

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