It’s been three years since the expiration of a bold promise: King County’s 2005 10-year plan to end homelessness. As of January 2018, a total of 12,112 individuals are reported homeless, a 4 percent increase seen over the course of this past year. Homelessness in King County is now being covered by more and more defeatist sounding series like KOUW’s Seattle’s Homeless: No End In Sight and governing officials are reaching for a new, less-lofty goal: making homelessness in Seattle rare and brief when it does occur. Here at TWIF, we’re not giving up. These are the facts and how you can help:
How We Got Here
Seattle’s homeless crisis has roots in the early 2000s, when a high-tech bubble fueled the area’s rising home prices and the federal government cut funding for low-income housing and homeless services. In 2015, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a homelessness state of emergency, but rents kept rising. Between 2015 and 2017, the rate of homelessness in the city grew by 44 percent, disproportionately affecting African Americans and Native Americans.
The city’s latest effort to reduce homelessness, the “head tax” on major business, failed after being fought by the corporations it was meant to target. City officials seem to be at a loss for solving this ever-growing problem, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something you can do to help. The first step is understanding the truth behind some of the most common misconceptions we hold when it comes to Seattle homeless.
- Myth #1 - Seattle attracts homeless from other areas
The mild climate and liberal minded population that characterize the upper left United States make it a haven for homeless, if such a place exists. The fact that Seattle appears this way contributes to the widely held belief that a significant percentage of our homeless population has migrated here from other areas. Yet, while it’s impossible to know exact numbers, studies show that the majority of people living on the streets or receiving some form of assistance are from this region or have lived here for at least five years.
- Myth #2 - The homeless population has significantly increased in the past year
While the homeless population does continue to increase, homeless visibility made a major jump after the closure of previously established encampments. What we see on the streets is the portion of the homeless population forced to set up tents and other temporary shelter in new, more visible locations due to the destruction of their previous living quarters.
- Myth #3 - People on the streets represent the entire homeless population
Every year, King County conducts its One Night Count to gauge the size of its homeless population. This number, 12,112 as of 2018, is often cited at the amount of people needing assistance in the region while, in reality, many more rely on the support of charitable organizations and programs to survive. With the rising cost of living, and more and more people needing rent assistance or transitional homes, efforts addressing homelessness need to take them into account too.
TWIF partners with over 100 nonprofit organizations whose mission is to directly benefit the Seattle community. Each has a unique approach, meaning there are many ways to get involved depending on your interests, talents, commitment level and schedule. Below are a few making an impact when it comes to Seattle homelessness. Learn how you can help!
- Abundance of Hope
Youth are affected by homelessness just as much as any other demographic. At Abundance of Hope they serve ages 12 to 25 whose lives have been affected by homelessness, oppression, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and abuse. They seek to empower our city’s most at-risk youth with positive and productive life skills. Volunteer applications are always available on the support page of their website.
- Acres of Diamonds
Located in Duvall, Acres of Diamonds serves homeless women and children in King and Snohomish Counties. They provide transitional housing for women and their children, allowing them to step out of homelessness and back into community. Join their team by volunteering or donating to their programs.
- Assistance League of Seattle
Over 3,000 students in Seattle Public Schools are currently experiencing homelessness. The Assistance League of Seattle is dedicated to reducing this number. The entirely volunteer-run organization works to removes barriers to education for children and adults in Seattle through its philanthropic projects and scholarship opportunities.
- Attain Housing
Attain Housing is dedicated to bringing our community together to partner with homeless families. They seek to provide affordable housing and to empower those who seek their support through case management. Join them as a volunteer and help further their vision of a safe, supportive community where stable housing is available for all.
- Birthday Dreams
Every child deserves a birthday party, but, more often than not, that’s not a reality for homeless children. Birthday Dreams is here to fix that. Their goal is for every homeless child to have a birthday party. They’re working towards that goal in two ways: group onsite parties and the “Birthday in a Box” program. Both options are always in need of support from volunteers and donors.
- Compass Housing Alliance
Compass Housing Alliance provides housing, shelter, and support services to people experiencing homelessness and poverty in the Puget Sound area. Today, they are a leading provider and developer of essential services and affordable housing for men, women, veterans and families who are struggling. Join them on their journey, as they develop safe, caring communities and provide for those in need.
FareStart is committed to solving homelessness, poverty, and hunger by helping individuals overcome anything that’s prevented them from finding and keeping a job in the past. They provide all the tools, training, and support necessary for developing a lasting career in the food service industry while helping to feed those most in need at the same time. Checkout the volunteer section of their website and learn how you can support the FareStart family.
- Operation Warm
Not a coat drive, Operation Warm works with manufacturers to design and produce their own line of kid-friendly coats. They seek not only to provide warmth for children affected by poverty and homelessness, but also to offer the confidence that accompanies wearing a brand new winter jacket. Volunteer recruitment begins in April to prepare for the upcoming winter season.
Samaritan is an app that reveals the stories of the unsheltered people you pass by daily. Once you download it to your phone, the app alerts you every time you pass a “beacon holder,” a homeless man or woman who has shared their story with the organization. Read through their bios and learn more about our neighbors living on the streets and, if you choose to, donate cashlessly through the app and help provide necessities for the people you’re learning about.
- Wellspring Family Services
Wellspring Family Services seeks to build emotionally healthy, self sufficient families and a nonviolent community in which they can thrive. They want lifelong stability for those who come to them, not just shelters and tents. Join them and help create lasting change.
- Westside Baby
Founded in 2001, Westside Baby collects, inspects, and distributes free diapers, clothing, cribs and safety gear for babies and children in need. More than 120 local social service agencies, including shelters and food banks, rely on them to provide critical necessities for low-income families. Support their critical mission through volunteering, donating or hosting a collection drive.
Since 1974, YouthCare has been a leader in providing effective services to Seattle’s homeless youth. They’ve since built six sites to serve the greater Seattle area, all of which offer outreach, basic services, emergency shelter, housing, counseling, education and employment training. Through their continuum of care, YouthCare seeks to build self-sufficiency and confidence in homeless youth.
No matter how you choose to get involved, a little kindness goes a long way. The first step can be as small as taking a suggestion from the organization Facing Homelessness and just saying “Hello” as you pass a homeless person on the street. Homelessness is more than a problem to be solved; it’s learning to treat homeless men, women, and children with the care and respect every human deserves.