OLYMPIA - The Washington State Department of Commerce says the state's homeless population has decreased since 2018.
The state agency released final statewide results of the 2019 Point-in-Time count, an annual one-night snapshot of people experiencing homelessness.
The Point-in-Time count is sanctioned by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development also known as HUD. The count attempts to make available a set of data from around the country on "sheltered" and "unsheltered homelessness, officials said.
“Availability of enough affordable, safe and appropriate housing strengthens communities and supports economic vitality,” said Commerce Director Dr. Lisa Brown.
In Washington State this year, Data shows the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness on the night of the Point-in-Time count was 21,621, which is a decrease of 683 people, or roughly 3.1%. The total number of sheltered homeless individuals increased by 339, with the total unsheltered seeing a decrease by 1,022 or 9.6%.
Sheltered homelessness pertains to people living in a supervised publicly or privately operated temporary shelter, which includes congregate shelters, transitional housing, and hotels/motels that are paid for by charitable organizations or federal, state, or local government programs.
Unsheltered homelessness applies to a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place that is not designated as a regular sleeping accommodation such as a park, vehicle, abandoned building, airport or campground.
Nearly half of the counties in Washington State (21 of 39) saw an increase in the numbers of people experiencing homelessness. Snohomish County was at the top of the list at 258 more homeless individuals since 2018.
Although King County saw a decrease of 913 homeless individuals overall, the other 28 counties combined for an increase of 70 unsheltered and 230 overall.
"The Commerce summary report notes that across the state, households with the lowest incomes, and fixed incomes, in particular, are not keeping pace with rent increases. National research shows that rent increases are associated with corresponding increases in homelessness," the Department of Commerce stated in a press release.
"Homelessness is a statewide challenge, not just an urban problem, and the solutions must be as multifaceted as the causes,” commented Brown. She said the state’s focus on quality, comprehensive data collection and transparency around state and local investments to address homelessness is crucial to effective policy and action.
According to Tedd Kelleher, managing director of homeless programs at Commerce, "the more detailed state Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data show an estimated 29,800 people were successfully housed during the federal fiscal year 2018 (Oct. 1, 2017 – Sept. 30, 2018). He said that state and local homeless services providers have continued to emphasize rapid rehousing approaches – providing housing search case management resources and temporary rental assistance to efficiently move people out of homelessness."
Director Brown said Commerce has made significant progress in the last four years. “Our state and local HMIS data keep getting better. In the near future we will be able to see trends, evaluate outcomes and analyze costs more effectively,” she said.