King County homeless count: 11,751 people, up 5 percent from 2019

One night a year, volunteers spread out across Seattle and King County to count the homeless.

And on the cold, rainy night of Jan. 24, 2020, volunteers looking into vehicles, abandoned buildings, sanctioned encampments and villages, transitional housing and emergency shelters — and found 11,751 human beings.

The Point-in-Time Count results show an overall increase of 5 percent from 2019. Of those counted, some 53 percent were sheltered and 47 percent were unsheltered. The rates of sheltered and unsheltered individuals who were homeless in 2019 were the same in 2017, 2019, and 2020.

Surveys and shelter data supplement the one-night count to inform the final report, which King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan released last week.

Volunteers completed the count before the COVID-19 emergency hit.

According to the report, 71 percent of the people who were homeless at that time, sheltered and unsheltered, lived in Seattle, followed by the southwest region of the county — the cities of Auburn, Algona, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Milton, Normandy Park, Pacific, Renton, SeaTac, Tukwila and Vashon Island —with 16 percent, and the east reaches of the county — including the cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland— with 9 percent.

The report no longer breaks the count down to the number of homeless in individual cities.

“As a region, we have worked hard to create more 24/7 shelters that are connected to onsite services to help people regain health and stability,” Constantine said. “Looking ahead, we must continue to strengthen our response to homelessness beyond merely a place to sleep, but also providing the safety, dignity and support people need to build permanent pathways out of homelessness. That work must also ensure that we serve Black, indigenous and other communities of color who are disproportionately represented in the homeless population. We must always do better.”

King County and the City of Seattle use HMIS data to guide policy and decision making. The HMIS provides real-time information throughout the year on the scale, scope and needs of people who are homeless.

The Point-in-Time Count provides a snapshot of a single night every year. The HMIS reports have been enhanced to share more information on people engaged in the homeless service system, including data by household type, age, veteran status, race and ethnicity. A data dashboard also offers data on inflow and outflow of households in the regional homeless system, critical to understanding the magnitude of the crisis and the solutions needed.

Because the count and the data dashboards rely on different data sources, the highest confidence lies in those areas where both sources indicate similar trends.

For example, the count and the data dashboard both highlight the continuing disproportionality of homelessness among communities of color. Based on surveys conducted as part of the Count report, Native American/Alaska Native people made up one percent of the population in Seattle/King County, but 15 percent of the respondents experiencing homelessness. Black/African Americans are seven percent of the Seattle/King County population, but 25 percent of the respondents. Latin persons are ten percent of the Seattle/King County population, but 15 percent of the survey respondents.

“We had a challenging and unacceptable homelessness crisis before COVID-19, and the risks are high that we will see an increase in homelessness as a result of the economic fallout caused by the pandemic,” said Sara Levin, vice president of community services at United Way of King County and co-chair of the King County Continuum of Care Board. “That is why United Way is focusing on preventing people from falling into homelessness and urging local, state and federal lawmakers to prevent evictions through funding and policy changes.”

Monthly data in HMIS shows an increase in households connecting with homeless services over the past year. Despite increased system capacity and efficiency, however, the rate at which people are becoming homeless continues to outpace the ability to house them within existing resources.

Together with leaders with lived experience of homelessness, King County, the City of Seattle, and the Sound Cities Association are working together to begin implementation of the King County Regional Homeless Authority, a new governance system to improve regional coordination of resources and action plans to address homelessness countywide. Responsibility for overseeing the Point in Time Count moves to the KCRHA in 2021.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires the annual count, which it uses to make funding decisions. This is the first year the count has been coordinated by Vega Nguyen, a women and minority-owned survey research firm based in Bellingham. The King County Homeless Response System Dashboard and the 2020 Count Us In report are available online at https://regional homelesssystem.org/.

King County and the City of Seattle use HMIS data to guide policy and decision making. The HMIS provides real-time information throughout the year on the scale, scope and needs of people experiencing homelessness.

The Point-in-Time Count provides a snapshot of a single night every year. The HMIS reports have been enhanced to share more information on people engaged in the homeless service system, including data by household type, age, veteran status, race and ethnicity. The dashboard also offers data on inflow and outflow of households in the regional homeless system, critical to understanding the magnitude of the crisis and the solutions needed.

“Seeing these numbers of Native homelessness is heartbreaking. I feel enormous pain and sorrow for my relatives, who because of their indigeneity, because of their historical and ongoing trauma, will experience the highest rates of homelessness,” said Colleen Echohawk, Executive Director of the Chief Seattle Club and co-chair of the King County Continuum of Care Board. “Systemic and institutionalized racism continues to ensure that BIPOC communities experience homelessness at much higher and alarming rates. Our system must shift and our Regional Homelessness Authority must focus on system change that is equitable and anti-racist.”


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