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2018 count shows 8,600 people homeless in Seattle

While Seattle sorts out what part it can pay for of the hundreds of millions of dollars required to reverse the trends, here are the numbers behind King County’s ongoing homelessness emergency:

A total of 12,112 individuals were experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County on January 26, 2018. Fifty-two percent (52%) of the population was unsheltered, living on the street, or in parks, tents, vehicles, or other places not meant for human habitation. Compared to 2017, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County increased by 4% (469 persons). The unsheltered population increased by 15% (835 persons).

The report on the 2018 point-in-time count of King County homelessness has been released and — if you’re looking for even the faintest silver lining — at least the problem didn’t grow significantly more challenging in the past year. The Count Us In report shows a smaller than expected 4% total increase from 2017. But the count of unsheltered homeless in Seattle rose 17%. The full report is below. UPDATE: CHS erroneously described the Seattle population as “living unsheltered” when the report count we referenced was for the total homeless individuals. Sorry for the error and any confusion.

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According to the report, the largest increase was found in people living in cars, trucks, vans, and RVs:

In 2018, there were an estimated 3,372 persons living in cars, RVs, and vans. This represented a 46% increase compared to 2017, when there were an estimated 2,314 persons living in vehicles. Alternatively, the unsheltered population not residing in vehicles, i.e., on the streets, in buildings, or in tents, decreased by 7% (223 persons), indicating a shift within the unsheltered population.

In Seattle, the counted population added up to 71% of the county’s total — 8,600 people.

Within those numbers and across the county, an estimated 3,552 individuals were experiencing chronic homelessness — “sleeping in places not meant for human habitation or staying in emergency shelters for a year or longer—or experiencing at least four such episodes of homelessness in the last three years—and also living with a disabling condition such as a chronic health problem, psychiatric or emotional condition, or physical disability.” Compared to 2017, the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness leapt 28%.

With homeless youth a focus on Capitol Hill, the 2018 count showed a slight dip in young people counted this year. An estimated 1,518 individuals were classified as “unaccompanied youth and young adults” —

Young people represented 13% of the total count population, and included 172 youth under 18 years old and 1,346 young adults between 18 and 24 years old. Three-quarters (75%) of unaccompanied youth and young adults were unsheltered on the night of the count and 25% were sheltered.

According to the report, a disproportionate number of those homeless young people identified as LGBTQ+.

The full 2018 Count Us In report is below. You can learn more at

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34 thoughts on “2018 count shows 8,600 people homeless in Seattle

  1. Thanks for reporting on this. I’d like to add that the majority of those experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County were living here before they became homeless. There is a growing and false assumption that because we offer services, homeless folks are flocking to Seattle. Ergo if we offer more services, more homeless people will arrive. The data does not back this.

    • “the majority of those experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County were living here before they became homeless”

      Right. If you count a post office box address at Compass Housing as a “residence”

    • Homeless people do go to where services are offered. Do you see them flocking to Bellevue? Nope. Somehow they all end up in Seattle. Could it be the lack of services offered on the eastside? Perhaps. Or maybe they don’t roll out the welcome mat in the many ways we do in Seattle.

    • Of course if alexheartseattle took 3 seconds to search for homeless surveys and the resulting statistics, they would see that the vast majority of homeless in Seattle, King County, greater Puget Sound and Washington come from *gasp* Seattle, King County, greater Puget Sound and Washington! Something like 85% were from King County before they were homeless, and close to 95% from Washington.

      But hey, it’s easier to post some zingers if you conveniently ignore facts, statistics and reality, right alex?

      • I understand searching is difficult, but here’s a few links that I came across with a 3 second search:

        There’s the Stranger article posted elsewhere in these comments.

        Even MyNorthwest has an article that (begrudgingly) admits that the homeless are almost all from the area. I won’t post it because MyNorthwest is sensationalist garbage.

        And of course, the survey that this whole freaking blog article is about, which actually shows that my percents were actually low by a couple percent:

        If you’re setting out to make a point, it helps to make sure your argument isn’t instantly refuted by the article you’re commenting on. Also, why are you and others in these comments trying so hard to show that the numbers are false? You’re like climate change deniers. You have your views and you are not going to change them no matter how stacked the evidence is against you. All conflicting evidence is automatically wrong, you just can’t yet prove why it is wrong and you are right, but you’ll keep trying, by gum!

  2. It’s all self-reported data, and there’s a clear incentive to say you came from Seattle; additionally, the details of previous surveys reveal that the survey-takers are extremely generous about counting people as being “from here” — marking Pioneer Square as their previous home if they don’t answer the question, or counting those who have been homeless for a long time as “from here” because they were also homeless Seattle residents three months ago. This has all been reported on before.

    In short, the stat is basically a lie. But it’s the kind of lie that’s complicated enough to explain that people will believe it anyway.

    • Can you please clarify what the clear incentive is for people to lie about where they are from? I’d also like to read the reports you referred to. Here is a report that lists other societal factors that contribute to homelessness: I think it can be harmful to categorize those without housing as ‘others’ who move here to spend our tax dollars rather than our neighbors who have lost their home due to a variety of circumstances.

      • @Local. Do you believe that those who are suffering from mental illness and drug addiction are truthful? I think it would be naive to believe that all respondents are being honest.

      • The incentives are ease and eligibility for services, as well as well-known demand characteristics of in-person interviews (meaning people say what they think the interviewer wants to hear).

        For the record, I don’t believe people are flocking here for services. That’s ridiculous. However, I don’t think it’s a crazy idea that some service-resistant
        chronically homeless people move from place to place depending on where there is lax enforcement of local laws.

        You can already see that within the County – why are so many people on the street in Seattle? Because it’s illegal in other places, so they come here. Not sure why it wouldn’t apply across County lines.

      • @Local. The incentive for lying would be out of fear for being tagged for removal. Removal isn’t going to happen and it shouldn’t happen but when you’re operating in fear and in an altered state of mind, such as those suffering from illness or addiction, don’t you find it likely they will stay something untrue out of fear?

      • There’s a definitely an incentive for social service agencies to word questions to maximize the number of answers that count as “local”.

        A story of a local family hitting hard times is a lot more sympathetic than the story of ne’er do well with addiction issues who was given a bus ticket to Seattle by a social worker to access the much better services available here (which is true, we do have good services. They’d be stupid not to come.)

      • There’s absolutely an incentive to not be truthful – even if there is no residency requirement to receive services, how likely do you think it is that the people on the streets know and understand that *and* do you not think that even being asked the question, even with the ‘promise of anonymity’ doesn’t ring alarm bells in their brains….. of course it does and of course some of them lie and of course some, if not a good number have come here from other places – a) we have very lax policies about allowing people to sleep on the streets b) we have year round weather that is unlikely to substantially and in any sustained way threaten your life c) there is easy access to the substances of choice that people like to abuse.

        I know it’s anecdotal, but time and time again – things I’ve personally heard and things I’ve read in news articles so many of the stories are not people here because they lost a job or an apartment here… they are the old guy who came from Minneapolis because it’s so much warmer here and he could get hospital care… the guy who was talking about being sent up here from Oregon… the fellow who came here from Michigan because he heard there was a $15 minimum wage in Seattle… yeah because the cost of living is higher…. the one who came because he thought he had a job as a pedicab driver, but that didn’t work out… The ex social worker (yes social worker) who decided living jobless in a tent was fine and easier than working and she would be allowed to do it here…. The guy who were given money to have his bus towed – who just can’t deal with the stress of having a job…

  3. This is really really sad. We need to make serious changes in our approach to chronic homelessness. We have neglected this problem for years, and as you can see, it’s not solving itself.

    I would disagree that the problem did not grow more challenging. Solving chronic homelessness is expensive and difficult. Resources need to be redirected to permanent supportive housing rather than squandered on tiny homes and paying RV parking fines.

    Most of these folks will never work, since they have a permanent disability, so our only real option is to figure out who is ‘local enough’ that we should house them, do that, and turn the rest away. It will cost many millions of dollars to support these folks for the rest of their lives so we need to be realistic about our inability to do this for people with no real ties to the area.

    If the head tax isn’t repealed all the funds should be redirected to this.

    • Many billions of dollars, if you include the cost of building the permanent housing and associated suppotive services. These are dollars I would rather direct to universal free pre-school and free four year public college for all Seattle residents who graduate high school, obtain a GED, etc. We cannot pay for everything. Choices have to be made. I have made mine.

      • There’s no reason to build it. Most communities do scattered site permanent supportive housing in other apartment buildings.

        The truth is, we pay for these folks one way or another. We can pay in emergency services and quality of life costs to the community or we can pay to care for people who can’t care for themselves.

        What we can’t afford to do is waste the money that should be going to this on ineffective things, so that we’re paying double (emergency services for these folks, plus frittering away the money that could go for keeping them in housing).

        Then we really can’t afford to pay for the other things we need, the community suffers, and these folks suffer as well.

      • Yup, the earlier you spend the better. I’ve told friends many times if we spent a quarter of the the money, energy, and angst that we spend on homelessness on early childhood programs we would be doing our citizens, community, and society incredible good.

        … but instead we choose to pour gobs of our finite energy and money into problems only once they reached the point that they are the hardest and most expensive to address… and after lives and families have been destroyed.

        Yeah Seattle, your gonna solve homelessness…right. You could have all children in Seattle prepared and ready for kindergarten which would be a huge factor in closing the performance gap… nah.

  4. Now here is my real answer to your question. You can frame it your way, but I will frame it my way. Are we really going to condemn another four year old to not receving the benefits of preschool and put him at a disadvantage to his more fortunate fellow kindergarteners-those who received preschool education? Are we going to tell another high school graduate you cannot receive a college education because you can’t afford it?

    Because we only have so much money to spend, and I would prefer to spend it to address preschool and college opportunities than plow it into building tens of thousands of units of affordable housing and associated services. In a perfect world, perhaps we do it all. But we do not live in that world.

      • I am happy to provide funding for housing and services for homeless children and their families. I believe we can afford that with currently budgeted city dollars if we move money to serve that purpose.

      • What if housing people is actually cheaper than not housing people? Because with all the other costs of homelessness (ER for medical issues, clean up, etc.) it is. So this means more money in the coffers for that 4 year old. Win-win.

    • Stable housing tends to be an indicator of better education in both children and adults. Less stressors in someone’s life means more socioeconomic opportunity, especially with children. This why I believe in a housing first model.

  5. In the last 24 hours I have encountered 2 different people I can assume are homeless with hospital bracelets on. I wonder if this count all the people that were in the hospital awaiting to be seen and or checked out. I also want to add one of the men with charged at me while I sat on my scooter waiting to turn. We have a real serious/dangerous problem in this this city.

  6. The study most frequently quoted to debunk the “not from here” argument, was written about in The Stranger.
    Although the article tries to make the point that most homeless people are from here, that conclusion is cloudy to me. It found that only 31 percent of survey respondents were “originally from Seattle.” Many did claim that their last address before they became homeless, was in the city. But it wasn’t noted if this was a shelter or an independent situation. 49 percent said they were living in the city and 21 percent were living elsewhere in King County. About 13 percent of those surveyed came from out of state when they most recently became homeless. Key to this study is that the people asking the questions were homeless people paid to do this work. Hey, it’s great that they gave some people who need the money some income, but I question the authenticity of the responses. It’s in their best interest to have the homeless issue be seen as a problem of helping our neighbors rather than some folks from Texas.

    • What incentive do these people have to lie about their origin? It’s not like better services are given to people from around here. And Seattle is known for having inadequate services, so why would people flock here just to be homeless and miserable? If you’re going to move somewhere with bad services to be homeless, why not San Diego or LA?

      Furthermore, why are you and others trying so hard to discredit a survey that has no reason to be false? Your conclusion is very similar to others, you can’t find any evidence or reason for the survey results to be fake, but you still don’t trust the results.

  7. This article shows that 2207 people of the total were living in “transitional housing/safe haven.” Why is this figure included in the total count? These individuals had adequate shelter and were not “homneless.”

  8. If you are arguing the “not-from-here” angle the burden is on you to prove the point. Mere extemporaneous “common sense” musings pale when compared to substantiative data and analysis. The study may be imperfect but this is a challenging area to study. If you have better methods then you should suggest them.

    In the mean time, don’t come back until you’ve done your homework. You need to put forth compelling, evidence-based arguments. Until then you might as well be arguing that the earth is flat.

    • You want me to believe the survey is accurate, tell me why people who are known to often be chronic liars (addicts and the mentally ill) should be counted on to give accurate information in this particular case… Your data is only as good as your source and in this case the source is sketchy to say the least.

      If you only rely on asking people – not on actual records, then you won’t find me giving any of your numbers much credence.

      Not to mention you have just asked those of us who are skeptical to prove a negative…. The burden of proof falls on the shoulders of a person making a claim, which means that if you say something is true, it’s on you to prove it. If you expect someone else to prove that your claim is false, hoping that their failure will prove your claim correct, you’re making a burden of proof fallacy.

      • One thing I note is that a substantial percentage of respondents admit to substance abuse, much of which is actually illegal. If you’re going to suggest that they have motivation to lie about point-of-origin, you have to explain why they *don’t* lie about a question where the answer could send them to jail.

        At least one of the surveys has switched to asking people how long they have been in Seattle/KC, which seems even less likely to invite lying, and the percentage of those who have been here over a year is very high.

  9. This just goes to show you how disgusting the United States of America really is. So much of our tax dollars is spent to fund a military to spends more money invading other countries killing millions of innocent people while lying to all of us about why we are at war all of the time. We fly planes into the world trade center planted with bombs and tell the world we were attacked by Terrorist just to invade countries that in reality had nothing to do with what happened in NY City. They are constantly spending money that could be used to address homelessness and providing health care to all. The leaders of this country so desperately want over throw the Syrian government train extremist and arm them to fight Assad and when Assad is able to win the battle we make up a story that Assad is gassing his own people to use as an excuse to unjustly shoot missals into the county killing innocent people and trying to over throw a President of good intention and character. the USA is the root of almost all terrorism in this world, that’s how our money is spent while we have people dying living outdoors with no accesses to health care. Nation Building and killing even more people abroad trumps any kind of care to the citizens of our own disgusting despicable nation. We need a revolution an uprising of sorts because the evil regime of the USA in reality is the biggest threat to the world there is and it must BE STOPPED because I am sick of funding the sick terrorism coming from the so called FREE world. The Free WORLD? GIVE ME A BREAK!