Troubling trends for homelessness, physical activity, food security, and drug-related deaths

Part I of our double blog on recent trends in King County focused on some of the good news from King County Hospitals for a Healthier Community’s new Community Health Needs Assessment.  Now we’ll look at some of the more challenging findings.

Part II.  ACROSS KING COUNTY OVERALL, WHAT’S FAILING TO IMPROVE OR GETTING WORSE?  While many indicators showed little or no improvement in the 3 years since the previous report, those with special relevance for healthcare providers were highlighted in the Community Health Needs Assessment.

Homelessness:  In the context of escalating housing prices, student homelessness in King County more than doubled since 2008, reaching 8,411 (2.9% of enrolled students) in the 2015-16 school year. In 2016-17, this increased further, to 9,407 (3.2% of enrollees).

  • In most school districts, more than 40% of homeless students were in elementary school or pre-kindergarten.
  • In addition to student homelessness, the 2017 Count Us In Report identified 11,643 individuals experiencing homelessness, 50% of whom had one or more disabling conditions.

Too little physical activity: Fewer than 1 in 4 King County adults and youth get the recommended amount of exercise. Insufficient physical activity is associated with obesity, which in turn is linked to diabetes and other chronic diseases (including 4 in 10 cancers diagnosed in the United States).

  • This represents no change for adults, and modest but inadequate improvement for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, given the importance of physical activity to health.
  • The overall obesity rate for King County adults has been flat since 2009 (at more than 1 in 5 adults). Nationally, adult obesity levels rose for decades, stabilized between 2003 and 2012, then rose again slightly for women.
  • At 22%, the 2015 adult obesity rate in King County was significantly lower than the Washington state rate of 26%, and the national rate of 29% (although the 2011-2015 rate in South Region matches the national rate, at 29%).
  • For King County youth, obesity has held steady around 9% since 2004 except in South Region, where it has increased. In comparison, high school students nationally experienced a steady increase in obesity from 1999 to 2013, which appeared to level off at a higher rate -14% in 2015.

Food insecurity:  By 2016, King County participation in the Basic Food program (formerly food stamps) had not returned to pre-recession levels and was increasing for older adults, especially in South Region.

  • A similar pattern was found for visits to King County food banks.
  • Although survey data about food hardship (running out of food without money to buy more) have not been collected since 2013, use of food assistance is often associated with food insecurity.

Feeling depressed: On the mental health front, 30% of youth reported that, every day for 2 or more consecutive weeks, they felt so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing some of their usual activities.

  • This indicator of depressive feelings has gotten worse in King County since 2004, driven by increases among youth in South Region.
  • Among adults, reports of frequent mental distress (poor mental health in at least 14 of the past 30 days) have increased among Hispanics since 2005, but remained stable among other race/ethnicity groups.
  • While the percentage of heterosexual adults reporting serious psychological distress has been flat since 2009, feeling “nervous, hopeless, restless, depressed, worthless, or that everything was an effort” within the past 30 days has increased significantly among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults.

Drug-related deaths, especially those related to heroin and methamphetamine, increased dramatically between 2010 and 2016.  New data released last week revealed a 10% increase (from 348 to 379) in King County drug-related deaths in 2017.

Homelessness: 2nd annual media blitz

A year ago, more than 30 Seattle media outlets joined a coordinated media response to the region’s homelessness crisis.  Despite sincere and sometimes successful efforts by city and county governments, local businesses and philanthropies, and community-based organizations, homelessness in King County still qualifies as a crisis.

In January, the one-night count of sheltered plus unsheltered homeless in King County was 11,643, generating the local headline, “A city the size of Woodinville is sleeping in our streets.”  But the annual count used a new method in 2017, so that number can’t validly be compared to previous results.

We have another source of data, though. School districts in Washington are required to “track their homeless students and report that data annually to OSPI” (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), which in turn reports to the state legislature.  Communities Count has compiled these data for King County school districts going back to the 2007-2008 school year.  By 2015-2016, student homelessness statewide had ballooned to 39,671 – a 52% increase in just 5 years. Over the same period, student homelessness in King County almost doubled — from 4,423 in 2010-11 to 8,411 in 2015-2016 (see chart). Of the 19 school districts in King County, the number of homeless students declined in only 2 (see school district trends).  Washington schools use the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of student homelessness, explained in detail here.

Options for monitoring national and local media coverage of homelessness on June 28th include a national conversation curated by CityLab, Crosscut’s social media pages (Facebook and Twitter), and hashtag #500kHomeless.

 

Anyone could be homeless

Starting March 1st, eight short videos about homelessness in our region became available on The Moth’s YouTube site.   Last year, National Public Radio’s StoryCorps team and Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness invited local residents to talk about their experiences with homelessness. The resulting stories briefly convey (< 10 minutes each) the broad spectrum of circumstances that can leave families without a home.  They remind us that, despite the best-laid plans, anyone could be homeless.

This message is echoed in Communities Count’s new student homelessness update.  In the 2014-15 school year, homelessness among King County public school students has increased again – to an all-time high of 7,260.  In the Tukwila district, 1 in 9 students was homeless last year.  Almost half of homeless students (3,478) were in pre-K or elementary school; more than half “doubled-up” with friends or relatives because their own family was unable to provide stable housing.

For the first time, Communities Count provides downloadable student homelessness data for the past 8 school years. Updates on housing affordability can be found in the Housing section of Communities Count.  For additional information on homelessness in King County, go to AllHome.

Homelessness emergency declared in Seattle / King County

This morning Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine proclaimed that regional homelessness has reached a “state of emergency.”  Such proclamations are usually reserved for natural disasters, but Murray explained that local deaths related to homelessness have surpassed those caused by natural disasters in 2015.  Both the county and the city plan to increase funding for homelessness services, and will work to secure support from Washington state and the federal government.  An additional $5.3 million from the sale of city property will be used to address homelessness issues.  About half of those funds will be applied to homelessness prevention efforts.

According to the Seattle Times, last January’s One Night Count reported “3,772 men, women and children without shelter in King County, including more than 2,800 in Seattle – a 21 percent increase over 2014.”  When Communities Count reported on student homelessness in the 2012-2013 school year, 6,188 students in King County public schools were homeless.  According to the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, that number increased to 6,448 in 2013-2014.

 

“Home: Lost and Found” storytelling workshops

The Moth, a popular public radio show that also puts on stage events and open-mic StorySLAMs in Seattle, is hosting free storytelling workshops to develop the storytelling skills of family homelessness providers and advocacy organizations in the Puget Sound Region. “We’re looking for people who have a personal story related to homelessness, who want to learn how to craft it into a compelling 5-minute story that can be told in front of a live audience.” Workshops will be held in February and March. Click here for details and a link to application information. Applications will be accepted through Feb. 6, 2015.
Communities Count tracks student homelessness in King County school districts. Collectively, close to 6,200 students were homeless in 2012-13. The overall rate of homelessness (1 in 44 students) masked large differences across districts — from Tukwila (1 in 10 students) to Mercer Island (2 in 1,000).