How we can prevent and end homelessness in Seattle and King County
We can prevent and end homelessness in our region, but only if we unite our resources and work together. In 2020, folks with the lived experience of homelessness, service providers, nonprofits, businesses, government, and other experts developed the Regional Action Framework: our roadmap toward solving homelessness and building affordable homes in our region.
Preventing and ending homelessness in our region involves three key strategies:
Growing our crisis response
Increasing our supply of affordable housing
Improving mainstream systems and services to address homelessness more holistically
The first step in implementing these strategies was creating an entity for crisis response: the Regional Homelessness Authority, which was approved by the King County and Seattle City Councils in December 2019.
- The Authority coordinates efforts to prevent and reduce homelessness, through response programs such as Partnership for Zero.
- It uses real-time data from across King County to drive meaningful solutions.
- It brings together elected officials, suburban city voices, and key community organizations and members to inform policy — and in doing so, ensures accountability to the public.
- It pushes solutions for those unequally impacted by homelessness, such as people with disabilities and Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ community members.
Frequently asked questions about homelessness in King County
1. What causes homelessness in Seattle and King County?
The primary cause of homelessness is an inability to afford housing. Housing affordability in a specific region is determined by a number of factors including speculative market trends, unit availability, zoning laws, and wages.
In some cases of homelessness, there may be a precipitating event, such as a serious health issue and the resulting medical bills or the need to escape domestic violence. However, the root cause of homelessness is the scarcity of affordable places to live, and we are in this crisis now because of decades of policy choices at the local, state and national levels. In King County, we are short nearly 160,000 affordable units. Our region is an attractive place to live and work, but housing supply has not kept pace with population increases, job creation, and wage growth, driving up prices to the point of unaffordability. Ultimately, we know that homelessness is a housing problem that requires a robust expansion of permanent, affordable housing.
2. How many people are experiencing homelessness in Seattle and King County?
Based on a cross-systems analysis, King County estimates that at least 40,871 people experienced homelessness in 2020, which is over three times what the most recent Point in Time Count found. We have long recognized that point-in-time counts undercount the number of unhoused people in our region, and this integrated data — which pulls from Health Care for the Homeless Network and King County’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, among other sources — provides a clearer representation of people experiencing homelessness and allows our homelessness response system to know more about who they serve and what they need.
3. Is it true that homelessness in King County impacts some people more than others?
Homelessness in King County affects everyone, but some communities are impacted more than others. The majority of households experiencing homelessness in King County and receiving services in the homeless response system are people of color — the direct result of systemic racism. When compared to the racial demographics of the King County general population, the largest disparities are among those identifying as Black or African American (30% in the homeless response system compared to 6% in the county’s general population), American Indian/Alaskan Native (5% compared to 1%), and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (2% compared to 1%). We know that generations of policy choices have created a system that perpetuates racial disparities and unequal outcomes, and we are committed to creating a more just and equitable King County.
4. How is King County currently addressing homelessness?
King County has a robust response system in place, guided by the principles of housing first and racial equity. Using data to drive decisions, King County is working with urgency toward making homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring through prevention, crisis response, and housing.
There are multiple agencies within the response system that work in partnership with We Are In and each other to support King County’s homeless population:
- The King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA): Created in 2019 (by the Regional Action Framework), the KCRHA unifies and coordinates policy, funding, and services for people experiencing homelessness across all of King County. For more information, see the KCRHA website HERE.
- Local shelter and service providers: Nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations providing direct services and outreach for King County’s homeless population.
- Health care providers: A variety of agencies and providers offer health care services, including behavioral and substance use treatment, to people experiencing homelessness in King County.
- Affordable housing developers and operators: A number of government and non-government agencies and organizations are dedicated to building and operating affordable housing units across King County.
Homelessness is a Housing Problem
Read UW Professor Gregg Colburn and Data Scientist Clayton Aldern’s book about the structural factors that explain U.S. homelessness trends. You can also watch their presentation to the We Are In community.
King County Regional Homelessness Authority
Explore the KCRHA’s Data and Measurement hub. Accurate, reliable data is a critical tool for service planning, advocacy, and preventing and ending homelessness.