Eleven-year-old Nina Parry noticed a man sitting outside her neighborhood QFC. She and her mom brought him food. But there were others.
“Ever since I can remember, I've been seeing homeless people asking for money or just sitting in the streets being cold,” she said.
To learn more, she decided to report on homelessness for her fifth-grade class at Hazel Wolf K-8 STEM School in North Seattle. She reached out to KUOW using our question submission form. Reporter Kate Walters followed up.
This is their conversation, edited for length.
Kate: First, let’s recap how big this story is. We know there are nearly 4,000 people sleeping on the street in Seattle. About 4,500 more people are sleeping in things like shelters. County-wide it balloons out to more than 11,000 people.
There are as many causes for homelessness as there are homeless people. But a few root causes can be true for a lot of different people.
One is that rents have skyrocketed in recent years. Some people just can't afford to live in their homes anymore.
Another cause is a lack of treatment options for mental health and addiction.
Kate: Yes. Black people in Seattle and King County are five times more likely to be homeless than their white neighbors; Native Americans in the community are seven times more likely to be homeless than their white neighbors.
It comes with systemic racism. The black population is overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
When people leave jail, they can face real barriers trying to find employment and housing. Housing discrimination has also been a problem with people of color for a long time.
Kate: A woman that I’ve met up with multiple times over the last few years has been homeless on and off, living on the streets or in shelters. She told me that she misses being able to do laundry or cook a meal or have a shower or go to the bathroom. Living outside she was stressed, because she was afraid to go to sleep.
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Another woman told me that, especially in winter, when people are living outside and they get wet, they can't get dry very easily. They are constantly damp for a period of time which can be really bad; it's difficult to keep sores or wounds clean.
It can also be difficult to take some regular medications if you don't know when you're going to eat next.
Nina: I just kind of thought about what would happen if people thought about it more. It would be better if people knew what impact it had on our city. It's not just one person's problem. It affects all of us.
Produced for the web by Bond Huberman.