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Seattle set to spend more than $47 million on homelessness in 2016

Seattle will spend more than $47 million in 2016 to fight homelessness following City Hall votes this week — or, about 1% of its proposed budget for the year.

Last Thursday, Mayor Ed Murray joined in the prayers at First Hill’s Saint James Cathedral for the Mass for the Deceased Homeless “in memory of the men and women who died on the streets or by violence in our community this past year.”

45 people have died on the street in Seattle in 2015, Murray said earlier this month as the mayor declared a homelessness state of emergency in the city. That declaration will allow the city to add $5.3 million in spending to the $40 million called for in the mayor’s $5.1 billion 2016 budget proposal. Monday, the City Council boosted the emergency spend by another $2.3 million thanks to Seattle’s windfall from higher than expected real estate tax revenue. Kshama Sawant, set to lead District 3 in the new year, was unsuccessful in her bid to win support from her fellow Seattle City Council members for an even greater proposal of $10 million to build emergency housing.

The boosts will include nearly $2.7 million in spending on prevention and public health efforts, including Rapid Re-Housing, case management, and five public chemical toilets. With 90% of Seattle shelter beds full on average, the plan proposes $900,000 to create 100 new shelter beds. $1.8 million would be used to expand the Multi-disciplinary Team outreach program, which pairs police officer’s with social outreach workers. MDT will be expanding to Capitol Hill later this year. The plan also calls for a van to offer mental health services. $256,000 will go to a YWCA homeless shelter.

Meanwhile, the scale of the ongoing, $40 million-ballpark proposed spend on homeless services compared to the previous budget is mostly unchanged — but still staggering. It includes $4 million for the Seattle Conservation Corps “to provide training, counseling, and employment to homeless and unemployed people,” $9.8 million for homeless shelters, $1.5 million to increase shelter staffing, $4.3 million to provide homeless intervention and prevention services, $2.8 million for emergency food programs — enough for 525,000 meals, and $300,000 to “reduce the average length of stay for individuals and families in the City’s shelter programs, with the goal of reaching an average stay of 20 days,” $1.7 million for homeless health care services, and $40,000 “to support a capacity building project focused on improving agencies’ work with LGBTQ homeless young people.” More than $200,000 will be used “to lease property, support camp operations and provide case management and service referrals to encampment residents at up to three different locations.”

The City Council is set to vote to approve the final 2016 budget next week.

Central Seattle including Capitol Hill and the Central District has one of the highest concentrations of homeless youth and young adults in King County, a population that is a fifth LGBTQ and a third African American, according to results from King County’s 2015 One Night Count. The study found 3,772 individuals were living outside and unsheltered in King County, a 21% increase from 2014. Seattle Public Schools also says about 3,000 of its students are homeless. At 12th and Yesler’s Bailey Gatzert Elementary, the principal said 71 of the school’s 350 students were homeless last year.

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22 thoughts on “Seattle set to spend more than $47 million on homelessness in 2016

  1. I am all for this but, and I can’t say I know anything about it really, but how does it cost “$900,000 to create 100 new shelter beds”? Is this just how much the space, staffing and maintenance cost, per year? Really, I’d like to know. Seems like 100 beds isn’t that many and maybe there’s a cheaper, more efficient way?

    • Its not a mistake. that $900,000 is to house 100 individuals for one year. That’s roughly $24 per night for each of those one hundred individuals. Again SHARE would be able to get close to 450 individuals off the street, every night for one year with that money. It’s even worse though. Declaring homelessness a state of emergency has given city officials an opportunity to funnel money to friends and allies through things like $250,000 for , “extra” parking lot security, $500,000 for data collection, as if any of that is going to help get individuals off the street. I do need to say that, that was a glib comment, I don’t know that friends and allies are getting money funneled to them, but allocated money is being wasted on government bureaucracy, rather than being used to solve the out of control homeless problem in Seattle/King County

  2. We are spending alot of money on homeless services…a combined $76 million for Seattle and King Co, now to increase to $83 million. Yet our homeless problem is getting worse year by year. This is in contrast to the overall 30% decrease across the USA from 2007 to 2014 (HUD figure). What are we doing wrong? I think an argument can be made that, the more money we spend, the more we attract homeless people from other places.

    I hope that significantly more of the $83 million is spent for a “housing first” approach, as I think that is the only way we are going to get more homeless people off the streets.

    • I agree. Does giving a house or apartment to some homeless individual solve homelessness? Sure it gets a homeless individual off the street but have we addressed the underlying cause for homelessness or are we just perpetuating homelessness. This is where SHARE’s program is so unique. I need to say here that there is no one solution to ending homelessness. The solutions to ending homelessness are as varied as the reasons for homelessness but lets just briefly list them.
      Physical disability
      Mental disability
      Lifestyle choice/Laziness.
      Lets not let political correctness blind us from correctly characterizing bad behavior and lets call it for what it is. Oh by the way, Im homeless and have been for seven months.

  3. It would be nice if other cities did their part to support homelessness – outside of giving them a one way bus ticket to Seattle which IS the case. Because of our tolerance for homelessness, we’ve served as a dumping ground for other cities which is why you see decreases in their homeless populations.

    All cities across the US should take accountability and address the issue rather than foisting citizens upon Seattle. Our mayor needs to find out where these folks are coming from and demand that those cities do their fare share to support their own residents or write us checks to offset the costs we’re incurring.

    Everyone in the US deserves shelter and every city should take accountability to serve their residents.

    • Maybe we need federal legislation to make it cost cities Federal $$ if they engage in shipping off their homeless to other cities. Certainly within Washington we should push Olympia for this. (I’m not saying other cities in WA are doing this to Seattle– I don’t know).

    • Timmy, I have heard this claim that other cities provide a one-way bus ticket to Seattle in order to “deal” with their homeless problem. Is this actually true, or is it an urban myth? Can you provide documentation that it is occurring?

      • I don’t have documentation. Only what a colleague told me. He volunteers 2 nights a month at a Seattle mens shelter and in conversations we’ve had on Seattle’s homeless population, he expressed this issue and that individuals he’s spoken to at the shelter, several have mentioned that they were given 1 way bus tickets. He said mentioned those individuals came from Yakima, Centralia and Wenatchee. Additionally, I’ve seen interviews were homeless men were asked and they noted similar circumstances on their arrivals to Seattle. It makes sense. Why is our population homeless population rapidly expanding while others are declining.

        I think it would be great to quantify the issue by surveying the homeless to truly understand how and why they ended on the streets of Seattle.

  4. Quit blaming other cities for “foisting[the homeless] on Seattle…giving them a one-way bus ticket.” You want other cities to “do their part to support homelessness”? Oh, like Seattle does? Great idea! Take a look at San Francisco, with its open-arms approach to the problems the “homeless” present….along with being a “Sanctuary City” that resists federal law. San Francisco tolerates a bunch of people who hang out in the street, urinating, DEFECATING, hassling citizens(those are the people who work), while proudly telling everyone how tolerant it is. Society has always had people–street people, hobos, drug addicts, and those who won’t work–who are glad to take handouts, welfare, food stamps, etc. from those who DO work. These people will NEVER be productive because most of them–not all–don’t WANT to be….or they belong in mental institutions, or jail, and shouldn’t be on the streets at all. So they flock–of their own accord–to places that make it easier for them.
    And, if you’re so concerned about it, why don’t all you kind, loving, generous people ADOPT the homeless? Put them in your spare bedroom, or the backyard, and pay out of your own pockets.

  5. A huge number of Seattlites, housed and homeless, are from other parts of the country. Are poor and even homeless people not allowed to seek better opportunities? Plenty come here with hopes for work. Many find work. Not so many come with the intention of living under a bridge.

    Homelessness in King County as measured by the One Night Count has gone up and down over the years, mostly up and recently WAY UP.

    This study shows a correlation between rent increases and homelessness: the Journal of Public Affairs published, “New Perspectives on Community-Level Determinants of Homelessness,” a study of predictive factors for community rates of homelessness, 2012. An increase in rent of $100 per month correlates with a 15% increase in metropolitan homelessness and 38% in suburban or rural areas.

    Noticed anything about Seattle’s rents lately?

    The only answer to homelessness is homes. We can do only so much locally (doing a lot, still can do more!) – the real answer is for the federal government to get back to building and funding enough public housing. As long as we leave the housing market so lopsidedly profit-oriented, there simply is not enough housing left for people who are poor.

    • I agree we need more public housing and a more vigorous “housing first” policy. However, can you answer this question: Why is homelessness in Seattle increasing dramatically, when the problem is down 30% overall in the USA over the past 7 years?

    • I need to say this again, There is no one solution to ending homelessness. The
      solution(s) to ending homelessness are as varied as are the reasons for it in the first place. I look at the traditional shelter model much like jails, in that If jails worked we wouldn’t need more, we would be tearing them down. Our current Jail system doesn’t work and neither does our traditional shelter model. For those with Physical and Mental disabilities we need to concede that we will either help them or cast them out onto the street. What about those who like the lifestyle of being, “free” and living on the street?

  6. Ok I participate in SHARE, Seattle, Housing And Resource Effort. We are a unique, self managed emergency shelter model that houses nearly 500 men, women and children in both our indoor and outdoor shelters. It costs SHARE close to $5.00 per night per person. SHARE is King County’s largest. most cost effective emergency shelter provider and it’s sad to say but we receive NOTHING in financial support form King County. Had SHARE been given $900,000, we could have helped get almost 450 individuals off the street every night for one year. I have more to say about SHARE and will continue on my next post.

  7. Unlike the traditional shelter model employed by Union Gospel Mission, DESC or Bread of Life, SHARE’s self managed shelter model gives its shelter participants the opportunity to develop skills that will allow them to live a successful, fulfilling life outside the shelter environment and off of the streets. As with anything in life like college classes, you get out of it, what you put into it, and SHARE is no different. The self managed shelter model allows shelter participants to participate in shelter leadership, shelter operations, grant proposal writing, meeting attendance, and more.

  8. Last one..
    SHARE’s self managed shelter model fosters valuable life skills like communication skills, letter writing, problem solving, goal setting and an intimate appreciation of responsibility in it’s shelter participants. SHARE refuses to perpetuate homelessness for financial gain like so many other shelter programs, choosing instead to offer opportunity to grow, mature and participate in good citizenship. SHARE’s innovative approach to ending homelessness has not been embraced by King County and as a result receives no funding from the county. By the end of this month, 30-Mar-2016 SHARE will be financially unable to keep our 15 indoor shelters open and are forced to put over 300 individuals back onto the street because King County’s political red tape. Please contact your County Council member and ask them to fund SHARE. Again SHARE is King County’s largest most cost effective emergency shelter provider. Thank You and please feel free to post any questions, comments or email me directly at

  9. I have replied much to many of your comments and I hope I have added some perspective to the issue of homelessness. Right now, here in Seattle, homelessness is at crisis levels, but I think Its telling us something. Its marking a path towards a dire direction our society is moving towards. Solving homelessness by just giving homes to people may get them off the street but have we really solved the real reason(s) for homelessness or are we just hiding the homeless? I honestly don’t know. Its a lot to think about but again, I think homelessness in Seattle is indicative of a much larger problem.