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Homelessness in Seattle

The problem

On any given night in Seattle, there are over 6,000 people in need of shelter. Most find their way into an emergency shelter or transitional housing, but there are still about 1,989 people in the Seattle area sleeping outdoors without shelter, according to the 2013 One Night Count taken in January. When you factor in all of King County, the number grows to 2,737.

Although there are a plethora of emergency shelters and transitional housing locations scattered across the city, there are still thousands of people in the Greater Seattle area forced to sleep outdoors, potentially compromising their well-being.

homelessness youth

Encampments as a stopgap

In 1990, the demand for shelter culminated in the establishment of the first Tent City near the Seattle Center, providing a place for people without shelter to live in relative safety. Tent City is an environment based on sobriety, nonviolence, cooperation and participation, and includes both security – administered by residents – and food preparation.

Currently, there are two Tent City encampments – one in Seattle and one on the Eastside – and one "Nickelsville" encampment, which follows very similar rules and regulations. The encampments are low-cost, but legal arrangements and land use issues force the encampments to move every three months, making it more difficult for residents to stabilize their day to day lives.

Potential options to meet immediate survival needs

In May 2011, Councilmember Nick Licata and Councilmember Conlin were the prime sponsors of a resolution that passed unanimously and created a Council work plan and timeline for analyzing alternatives to meet the long-term housing and immediate survival needs of homeless people without shelter.

The resolution laid out the following possible alternatives:

  1. Renovating Fire Station 39 as a possible shelter or housing facility
  2. Working with faith-based communities to support shelter space in church buildings or parking lots, or on City land leased to churches
  3. Purchasing a motel to provide transitional housing
  4. Providing additional rent assistance vouchers
  5. Considering an encampment at a location such as those sites reviewed by the Citizen Review Panel
  6. Modifying the City's existing shelter service contracts to address any shortcomings identified in the HSD and Council reviews

Making progress: 2012 Seattle City Budget

The Seattle City Council, in November 2011, passed a budget for the next year that provides additional funding forcritical housing services associated with homelessness. Highlights of the City’s 2012 budget can be found here.

The new budget includes five important funding allocations that will provide necessary services to homeless individuals and families in need, including:

  1. $150,000 to expand the Rapid Re-Housing Program that provides financial assistance to place families into rental housing.
  2. $150,000 to expand shelter and transitional housing services for homeless families.
  3. $75,000 to create an Opportunity Fund for religious institutions to help finance capital improvements in order to serve the homeless.
  4. $40,000 to expand the Emergency Services Program for homeless families to provide emergency hotel or motel vouchers and case management services.
  5. $20,000 to fund case management services and operational costs in support of a Safe Parking Pilot Program.

In all, the Seattle City Council budgeted $435,000 of the original $790,000 the Mayor had originally proposed for developing a semi-permanent homeless encampment at the Sunny Jim site. The remainder of the money will be used to repair roofs on six city-owned facilities, although the Council is asking more research be done prior to money being spent.

Homelessness into the future

In the resolution passed this past May, the City Council dedicated itself to "helping homeless people obtain temporary and ultimately permanent housing." Whether it is establishing land use policy to allow for long-term encampments, providing emergency rental assistance or increasing access to shelters, the City is looking forward to not only lessening homelessness, but working towards the effort to eliminate it.

There is no easy answer to solving the issue of homelessness. Getting our neighbors off the streets and into shelter is a community effort. And although it is not a permanent solution to the problem of homelessness by any means, the self-managed models of Tent City, Nickelsville and the Aloha Inn establishments have provided an excellent way for occupants to live in a safe and secure environment they might not be able to attain otherwise shelter-hopping or living on the streets.

On July 7, 2011, the Housing, Human Services, Health, & Culture (HHSHC) committee held a special meeting at Nickelsville in South Seattle to get a better picture of what life within a self-managed encampment is like. Here is a link to the video if you're interested in checking it out yourself!

At the HHSHC Committee discussion on September 14, we began reviewing these options (Attachment A; Attachment B ). They are not mutually exclusive with the exception that they all to some extent need either public funds or city staff support. The debate will be in prioritizing them. Councilmember Licata believes that should be determined by meeting the most immediate needs and providing the best long term solutions.

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