See how Seattle’s homelessness crisis stacks up across the country and region
Since the coronavirus first emerged in Seattle and King County, visible homelessness — encampments along greenbelts and sidewalks, RVs parked in neighborhoods and industrial zones — has grown and so, too, have frustration, fear and finger pointing over local officials’ handling of the crisis on top of a crisis.
Early into the pandemic, city and county officials worked quickly to set up new shelters and to pay for hotel stays to keep people with higher health risks out of crowded shelters. At the same time, federal public health guidance encouraged local governments to let people shelter in place — whether that was in a home or outside — so encampments grew as fewer people rotated through shelters.
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Both Seattle and King County have recently received a surge in emergency federal aid, setting off a chain of promises to use the funds to increase emergency and permanent housing.
And, as the 2021 Seattle mayoral candidates hit the campaign trail, homelessness is at the top of many candidates’ policy platforms. Whoever wins will have to work with a Regional Homelessness Authority — designed to place money and decision-making power over homelessness in King County under one roof — and its recently hired first executive director, Marc Dones.
But if you cut away from the political chatter, there’s a lot to be learned from studying the raw data — like who is most affected by this crisis and why a growing region with some of the world’s most successful tech companies is also home to the nation’s third highest metro-area homeless population.
Select a topic below to see data and charts
The national housing crisis is real, and it’s local
Thirty people out of 10,000 in the Evergreen state are homeless.
Forms of homelessness
23% of homeless people in King County live in their cars.
Unsheltered vs. sheltered
Between 47% and 59% of homeless people in their vehicles or outside in the Puget Sound area.
In the U.S., Washington has the fifth largest homeless population.
California leads the nation in homeless population with Washington ranking fifth. Thirty people out of 10,000 in the Evergreen state are homeless.
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Seattle ranks third in the nation for homeless population by metro area
Homelessness has grown in Seattle and King County by more than 30% since 2010. However, that rate is greatly outpaced by many California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Forms of homelessness in 2020
While people living outside might trigger the most fervent public and political discourse, many more homeless people in King County live in emergency shelter, vehicles and temporary housing combined.
Unsheltered vs. sheltered
During the latest homeless census, a one-night count done in January 2020, more than 5,500 people were counted as living unsheltered in Seattle and across King County. Known as the Point-In-Time count, this practice is the most widely used for tracking homelessness across the U.S., but its accuracy is spotty.
People have to sleep — but where?
Tents in Seattle’s urban center have increased by more than 50% during the pandemic.
Tiny house villages
Seattle has nearly 300 tiny homes for homeless people.
Race & gender
One quarter of people experiencing homelessness in King County are Black.
A survey, completed by researchers and students from Seattle Pacific University and University of Washington, found more than 800 tents in Seattle in spring and summer 2019, before the pandemic. With shelters offering decreased capacity and hotel spaces for homeless people limited, the number of tents in Seattle’s urban center has increased by more than 50% since the onset of the pandemic, according to the survey.
Source: Karen Snedker (Seattle Pacific University) and Charles Lanfear (University of Washington)
Tiny house villages
In 2021, proponents of tiny homes set a goal to double the number of tiny house villages in Seattle as a safer shelter alternative compared to crowded, open-room shelters.
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Breakdown by race
Homelessness disproportionately affects people of color in the Puget Sound area. Black people represented 7% of King County's population in 2020 but made up 25% of the homeless population. And while American Indian and Alaska Native people were 1% of the county population, they were 15% of the homeless population.
HoverClick on the chart to highlight an individual race
Breakdown by gender
Homelessness and unsheltered rates among transgender people are increasing at an astounding pace, according to a recent report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness using Point-in-Time Count data. The number of adult transgender individuals experiencing homelessness in the U.S. increased 88% since 2016.
* Total does not equal 100% because gender is unknown for approximately 3% of the homeless population in Pierce County.