Homelessness in Seattle

I work/live in Pioneer Square and downtown, which means I think about it a lot. For my general take on the Pioneer Square neighborhood, you can use this as a refresher.  Last week, the Mayor and King County Executive announced a state of emergency for homelessness in Seattle. It's not so strange that a state of emergency was announced for something of human creation - Portland, Los Angeles, and Hawaii recently announced a state of emergency for homelessness, too.

Homelessness has become part of Seattle's story, for better or for worse. Being one of the fastest growing cities in the US runs parallel to not meeting our goal of reducing chronic homelessness, it seems; King County estimates that 35,000 people will be homeless at least once each year, and during the annual One Night Count earlier this January, volunteers counted 3,772 people sleeping on the street - a 21% increase from 2014. That's a big number.

Together, King County and Seattle already invest $76M/year in preventative homelessness services. The budget announced for the state of emergency stacks up to $7.2M ($5.3M from Seattle & $2M from King County). That's a small chunk to go toward homelessness when compared to what we invest annually, and that $5.3M will come from a sale of surplus city property on Myers Way S. that hasn't quite sold yet - so the city is basically lending itself the money until the actual sale goes through.

This $7.2M will be used in two different ways. About half of this money will be allocated to moving people through services, which means getting homeless people off the street and into appropriate programs as quickly as possible; this includes diversion programs like LEAD, Rapid Re-Housing, youth case management, and more. The other half will be used toward meeting basic needs - Porta Potties for hygiene purposes, more beds, and targeted vehicle response.

You can peruse the full budget here. Now that the money has been announced, implementing these changes falls under the responsibility of the Department of Human Services; their strategic plan for how to implement can be found here.


I think the state of emergency announcement was a very strategic one, in a few different ways. The state of emergency allows Mayor Murray to pass orders quickly, rather than wait through an arduous public process. THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Also, announcing a state of emergency gives him the potential to vie for federal funds and possible FEMA assistance in the very near to long-term future.

But, most importantly: since Portland and Los Angeles have both declared similar states, it's possible that Mayor Murray's announcement may lead to an increased federal spotlight on the West Coast in general as a hotbed for the homeless epidemic. Instead of viewing homelessness as a city problem, it's possible that in the very near future, we may start viewing homelessness as a regional problem - which very much changes the way we fund, approach, and talk about homelessness. As we know, branding is everything.