Seattle's Person-Centered Plan to Support People Experiencing Homelessness

A Message from the Mayor

I am pleased to share Pathways Home, Seattle’s person-centered plan to reduce homelessness in our city. I believe we can make a dramatic and visible difference in the number of people currently experiencing homelessness through a major transformation of our homeless service delivery system.

Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis, and the City is doing all it can to respond, including declaring a state of emergency, making record investments in services, expanding shelter capacity and investing in stable housing. In fact, Seattle is third in the nation behind New York and Los Angeles in housing those who are homeless. But the problem is only worsening.

In 2015, we housed 6,700 people, but 6,900 people became homeless and another 600 people returned to our shelter system. In addition, an estimated 5,000 people cycle in and out of emergency shelters each year without specific attention given to address the factors that made them homeless in the first place.

Our system is clogged at our emergency shelter level and not enough people are moving through to stable, permanent housing.

There is no question that our system is overly focused on providing expensive, temporary shelter. In fact, seventy percent of our nearly $50 million investment is spent on emergency shelter services. We know, and national experts have confirmed, that emergency responses are not the answer. Every dollar spent on emergency beds is a dollar not spent on strategies that allow people to exit homelessness.

For too long, too much of the debate, energy and resources in this city have been focused on emergency, short-term emergency interventions. Pathways Home is our plan shift the focus to longer-term solutions.

Pathways Home helps us create a coherent, integrated, coordinated system out of the more than 180 contracts spread out among 60 different service providers. It establishes a “by name” list of those seeking housing that is shared among all providers, so the entire system can begin to better know and understand what each individual’s situation entails, which will allow providers to begin to unclog the system at the shelter level and redirect investments towards housing. It sets clear and consistent performance expectations, and institutes accountability measures to ensure that the City is paying for the best outcomes possible. This includes competitively bidding our provider contracts — something that has not happened in over a decade.

With so many complex root causes, we may not be able to end homelessness as we know it, but we can make it rarer and we can ensure that if a person does become homeless, it is a brief, one-time experience.

Despite the complexities of homelessness, however, we as a city simply should not tolerate families with children living unsheltered in our streets. Pathways Home commits to moving indoors in one year’s time the 500 families currently known be living outside on the streets of our city.

I encourage you to read through the Pathways Home plan, and please do not hesitate to let us know your thoughts.


Edward B. Murray

Edward B. Murray

Our Partners

All Home King County
King County
United Way of King County

Homelessness by the Numbers

Homelessness by the number details, image only

City of Seattle Investment in Homelessness Services

  • The City of Seattle will spend nearly $50 million this year to serve our homeless neighbors – more than at any time in our city’s history
  • As a City, we now provide a safe space for nearly 2,000 people every night, an increase of over 20 percent in just one year.
  • Our region is third in the nation, behind only New York and Los Angeles, in providing 8,300 homes for people who were homeless.
  • To provide temporary emergency shelter to the almost 3,000 people that remain on our streets would cost us another 49 million dollars a year – or double our current investment.
  • In 2015 the City of Seattle allocated $40.84 million across 183 contracts and 60 agencies to address homelessness. Additionally, $7.3 million was allocated in one-time State of Emergency funding.
    • Intervention: 70 percent or $26.68 million went to emergency shelter, transitional housing, day/hygiene centers, street outreach and meal programs.
    • Prevention: $4.55 million or 11 percent of investments were in prevention programs like rental assistance, eviction prevention, housing stability services for seniors and tenant-based education.
    • Permanent Housing: 19 percent of the budget, $7.59 million, was dedicated to permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing programs for families.

Recent City of Seattle actions to address homelessness

  • Emergency response
    • Civil State of Emergency

      Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared emergencies in November of 2015 in response to the growing homelessness crisis. Murray and Seattle City Councilmembers outlined a $7.3 million package to respond to the growing demand for homeless services.

    • Emergency Shelters

      The City of Seattle converted a City Light-owned building located at 157 Roy Street into an emergency shelter to help serve individuals living unsheltered on Seattle streets.

    • Youth Shelter

      In 2015, Mayor Murray announced the year-round expansion of shelter beds available exclusively for homeless youth. An additional $152,000 investment allowed Peace for the Street by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) to extend its temporary cold weather shelter to a year round, five day a week operation and increase the number of beds from 15 to 20.

    • Mobile Medical Clinic

      In July of 2016, Mayor Murray announced a new mobile medical clinic to make daily scheduled visits to food banks, tent cities, social service agencies and other locations where clients can receive walk-in medical care. This action was a part of the Homeless State of Emergency to help connect those living unsheltered with the ability to manage their health.

    • Authorized Encampments on City Property

      In June of 2015, as a harm-reduction measure Mayor Murray proposed new permitted encampments to serve at least 200 individuals experiencing homelessness. In late 2016, Mayor Murray

    • Encampment Task Force

      In August of 2016, Mayor Murray called for the creation of a task force to improve the City’s response to unauthorized encampments.

    • I-5, East Duwamish Greenbelt

      In August 2016 Mayor Murray transmitted a resolution to City Council outlining next steps in addressing the public safety needs of the people experiencing homelessness as well as infrastructure needs in the Interstate 5, East Duwamish area.

    • Navigation Center

      This past summer, Mayor Murray took action through an Executive Order directing the creation of a low-barrier, one-stop service center for individuals without shelter to receive the customized support they need to move from the streets back into permanent homes. The service center, which is slated to open in 2017, will be a dormitory-style living facility providing people living outside with shower, bathroom, laundry and dining facilities, a place to store their belongings, mental and behavioral health services, and round-the-clock case management.

    • Rapid Rehousing Funding

      Last year, the City of Seattle’s Human Services Department announced $620,000 of funding available to nonprofit agencies to provide Rapid Rehousing services for non-chronically homeless single adults to ensure that instances of homelessness are rare, brief and one time. Funding supports programs like short-term rental subsidy, housing navigation and placement, and employment navigation.

    • Bridging the Gap to Pathways Home

      In October 2016, Mayor Ed Murray announced a plan to better address the immediate needs of people living unsheltered on Seattle streets while the City fully implements its long-term plan, Pathways Home. These steps include:

      • Safer alternative spaces to live, including four new authorized encampments, a call out to the private and non-profit sectors, and communities of faith for additional proposals for immediate shelter space, and the Seattle Navigation Center.

      • Expanded outreach with the tripling of the number of outreach workers dedicated to connecting with people living in encampments, a dedicated Seattle Police team to partner with outreach workers and address behavioral disorder issues instead of the binary decisions around arrests, and training for frontline City employees on how to best offer referrals for people experiencing homelessness.

      • More compassionate protocols for unauthorized encampments, including the above note about displacement, better protocols around storage and delivery of personal belongings and notice, and transparency around when and why cleanups are carried out.

      • Improved trash and needle pickup with Seattle Public Utilities to help address areas most affected by trash buildup and make needle deposit boxes more accessible.

    • Affordability
      • HALA

        In 2015, Mayor Murray convened the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) advisory committee to develop a plan for the production of 50,000 new housing units in Seattle over the next decade, including 20,000 new or preserved affordable units.

      • Housing levy

        In August 2016, voters approved a doubling of the Seattle Housing Levy, to produce or preserve at least 2,150 units of affordable housing – with a focus on families earning 30 percent or below area median income, along with at least 350 existing units seeing reinvestment to extend their lifespans. This year’s levy also provides emergency rental assistance to at least 4,500 families to help them avoid falling into homelessness due to inability to pay rent.

      • Living minimum wage

        In 2015, Mayor Murray signed into law his legislation increasing the minimum wage in the City of Seattle to $15 an hour, phased in over time.

    Causes of Homelessness

    Many factors contribute to high rates of homelessness in Seattle, including historic underfunding of mental health and chemical dependency treatment services, foster care, criminal justice institutions, rising costs of housing, slow wage growth, and an affordable housing stock far below demand. Not everyone has benefited equally from the economic recovery, and economic and racial inequalities persist. All these factors contribute to high numbers of adults, families, and young people experiencing homelessness, despite the significant investments made in homeless services every year.

    • 35 years of federal cuts to affordable housing.
      • Federal financial support for housing assistance has plummeted by more than half since 1980.
      • In the last 5 years alone, we have lost one-third of our federal funding for affordable housing.
      • Last year, 19,000 Seattle households applied to be on the waitlist for a federal housing voucher.
    • For every $100 increase in median rent, homelessness increases by 15 percent
      • Poverty is on the rise in Seattle and King County, and housing costs have skyrocketed. A recent study highlighting key predictive factors to homelessness found that an increase in rent of $100 correlates with a 15 percent increase in metropolitan homelessness. Average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Seattle increased 29 percent in the last five years.
    • Cuts to mental health and addiction treatment
      • The erosion of State and Federal funding for medical and mental health systems, foster care and criminal justice institutions are factors in homelessness. Washington State is 47th in the nation for mental the number of mental health beds provided.
    • Heroin Epidemic
      • More people in King County now enter detox for heroin than they do alcohol.
      • In 2014, the 156 opiate overdose deaths were the highest ever recorded in King County –more than triple the number of deaths in 2009.
      • More than 3,600 people received methadone treatment in King County, but lack of treatment capacity leaves more than 150 people on a waitlist each day.
      • Drug overdose is currently the leading causes of death among people who are homeless.


    “If you are experiencing homelessness or may become unsheltered soon, please call 211 or go to 2-1-1 Community Resources online for help.”