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.


King County homelessness reaches new high

On January 23rd, King County’s annual One Night Count of homeless and unsheltered individuals totaled a record-breaking 3,772 – a 21% increase over last year’s count and the highest number in the 35 years of the count’s existence. Findings from the One Night Count (by definition an undercount) are supported by the steady upward trend in student homelessness reported by Communities Count.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, launched in 2005, aimed to end homelessness by 2015. Maybe it’s working in other places around the country, but we seem to be moving in the wrong direction. At Seattle City Hall last July, presenters at Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness told a local audience that “steady reductions in the annual Point-in-Time Count data clearly show our progress, nationally.” If the nation actually is reducing homelessness, how do we explain the opposite trend here in King County? As quoted in the Jan 28-Feb 3 issue of Real Change, “How is it possible that so many amazing people can be working on this and still be losing this badly?”