No End In Sight | KUOW News and Information

No End In Sight

Jonathan Murrell said his life spiraled out of control after a car accident in 2012.  He hasn't had housing in years.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Ten years ago this month, King County made a bold promise to end homelessness in 10 years. The ranks of the homeless have declined in Washington state and nationally during that time. But in the Seattle area, the number of people sleeping on the streets and in shelters has only gone up.

Alex Williams, an operator for 211, King County's information line for emergency food or shelter.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

A phone rings in a room full of busy operators at Seattle's Crisis Clinic. Alex Williams answers this one. 

“Good morning, thank you for calling King County 211. My name is Alex. How can I help you today?"

King County 211 is the line members of the public can call for emergency shelter or social services.

Homeless families outside a shelter in downtown Seattle
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

If you have an emergency, you call 911.

If you need emergency shelter or housing, you can call 211 – but be prepared to wait six months or more.

In the Seattle area, as throughout the United States, there aren’t enough beds.

Jessica and Blakely Tossey walk along Kent-Des Moines Road. The busy highway does not have sidewalks so Jessica wears a bright-colored sweatshirt.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Jessica Tossey is in the living room of her condo, getting herself and young son Blakely ready for their mile-long walk to church, where he goes to preschool.

Jessica puts on a bright orange sweatshirt, shoulders a backpack, grabs Blakely’s hand, and heads out the door.  

A clipboard used for King County's annual One Night Count.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

When a homeless person needs help, they are often asked for a lot of personal information.

For victims of domestic violence, that information could potentially help an abuser track them down. That’s why homeless people in Washington state are given the choice to keep personal information from a big database that service providers keep and share on the people they help.

KUOW Graphic/Kara McDermott

In 2002, when the Bush administration started pushing cities to adopt 10-year plans to reduce homelessness, Seattle/King County was already on board.

The feds suggested targeting chronic homelessness – typically the most visibly homeless people. But Seattle was ambitious and promised to end all homelessness by 2015.  

It’s been 10 years since the Seattle plan was launched, and the number of homeless people here has surged. This isn’t a national trend – across the county, homelessness has dropped by nearly a quarter.

food bank volunteer
U.S. Department of Agriculture

To complement our series Seattle’s Homeless: No End In Sight, we asked organizations who work with homeless people around King County to participate in an online survey. 

We wanted to know – direct from the people who do this work every day – what is most challenging about providing services for the homeless right now? And what, perhaps, do outsiders misunderstand about the work?

A selection of responses we received are published below; some have been edited for brevity.