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caption: Jackie O'Bryan in front of her family's tent at a University District homeless camp earlier this year.
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Jackie O'Bryan in front of her family's tent at a University District homeless camp earlier this year.
Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan

As Winter Approaches, A Push For More Shelter

In 2005, housing advocates in King County announced a plan to end homelessness within a decade.

Since then, the community has produced 5,600 units of permanent housing for the homeless, more than anywhere in the U.S. except New York and Los Angeles. This year alone, more than 2,000 formerly homeless people have moved into permanent housing.

Despite those improvements, and even as the economy booms in the region, the homeless population continues to inch higher.

“Last year, we had 10,000 households that were homeless in King County and 5,000 of them were newly homeless,” said Mark Putnam, director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County.

This year’s One Night Count of homeless people found 3,123 people living outside, a 14 percent increase over 2013. At the same time, 6,171 homeless people lived in shelters or transitional housing.

The reason?

The fast rising rents, low vacancies and high cost of living in the Seattle area have pushed more people to live in their cars or on the streets, according to advocates.

Some are newly arrived residents who were drawn to the area by the booming economy.

"I’ve heard many a story of people that thought moving here with a couple thousand dollars would be enough for them to get on their feet, find a job settle and kind of settle in, and it’s not,” said Putnam.

Putnam said housing advocates will be asking state lawmakers to put $100 million more into the housing trust fund in the next budget. That pays for the construction of affordable housing across the state.

In Seattle, homeless advocates are looking for an additional $1 million to add emergency shelter beds this winter.

“There are opportunities right now for both the Seattle City Council and the King County Council to approve budgets that increase the capacity for places where people can be overnight during the winter months,” said Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.

Homeless advocates are also pushing the King County Council to extend permits for temporary homeless encampments, also called tent cities, in unincorporated areas.

Legislation now under review would allow an encampment to stay in one place for about four months, one month longer than is currently allowed.

Homeless residents testified in favor of the legislation before the King County Council this week.

“If it wasn’t for Tent City 3 … I literally wouldn’t be here right now,” said Richard Barker. “It gives me a safe place …I wouldn’t survive out on the streets.”

The County Council will vote in December on whether to extend permits for homeless encampments. Council members are reportedly divided on whether to require tent city residents to submit to criminal background checks when they move into a new neighborhood.

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