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

Pathways Home is Seattle's person-centered plan to reduce homelessness in our city. This plan aims to make a dramatic and visible difference in the number of people currently experiencing homelessness through a major transformation of the 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.
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, approximately 50 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 shifts the focus to longer-term solutions. Pathways Home helps 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, homelessness may not end as we know it, but we can ensure that if a person does become homeless, it is a brief, one-time, rare experience.
Progress rarely happens quickly, nor does it follow a straight or simple path. However, The City and its partners; King County, United Way of King County, All Home, and service providers remain committed to initiating the necessary shifts in homeless care delivery, moving from recommendation to implementation, and recognizing that we all want the same outcome: to move people into housing as quickly and successfully as possible.

Our Partners

All Home King County
King County
United Way of King County

Homelessness by the Numbers

Homelessness by the numbers - 2017

City of Seattle Investment in Homelessness Services

  • The City of Seattle will spend nearly $50 million this year to serve those in our community experiencing homelessness.
  • As a City, we currently provide 2,184 units of emergency shelter and transitional housing every night. The City also provides 1,386 units of Permanent Supportive Housing for formerly homeless people with disabilities.
  • However, homelessness continues to outpace the current resources and the entire community must work together to address it. Count Us In - the annual point-in-time count of individuals, youth and families experiencing homelessness - found 3,857 unsheltered individuals in Seattle in 2017.
  • Most people who are homeless indicate the support they needed to obtain permanent housing is assistance paying rent. The City is investing heavily in Rapid Rehousing programs that provide rent assistance to help individuals and families quickly exit homelessness and return to permanent housing.
  • The City of Seattle currently contracts with 45 agencies to address homelessness and supports a diverse array of investments:
    • 56.32% of investments are directed to intervention programs such as emergency shelter, transitional housing, day/hygiene centers and street outreach.
    • 34.30% of investments are dedicated to permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing programs.
    • 9.38% of investments are directed to homelessness prevention, tenant education and diversion programs.

Recent City of Seattle actions to address homelessness

  • Emergency response
    • Emergency Operations Center Activation

      In February 2017, Mayor Murray temporarily activated the City's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to accelerate and coordinate our response to the homelessness crisis. This allowed for more coordination of both internal departments and external partners to more urgently provide services and lower barriers to housing for people living on our streets. While work at the EOC is centered around accelerating the work of Pathways Home and getting individualized services to people living outside, the collaborative model also fosters innovative ideas to address this crisis.  
    • Navigation Center

      In mid 2016, 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 summer of 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.

    • Navigation Team

      In February 2017, the City launched the Navigation Team to connect unsheltered individuals with services and shelter. The team is be staffed by contracted outreach workers and Seattle Police personnel who have advanced certification in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques. The purpose of the team's approach is to bring more people inside and create faster resolutions to hazardous situations. This new team will be the primary access point for people to be served by the Navigation Center.

    • 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. Currently there are six sanctoned encampments located in Ballard, Georgetown, Southwest Seattle, Interbay, Licton Springs and Othello. Learn more.

    • 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.

    • 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.
  • 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. For more resources, visit the City's Homelessness Response site.