The city cleared this Sodo encampment in March. Thousands of people across King County sleep outside every night.
The city cleared this Sodo encampment in March. Thousands of people across King County sleep outside every night. HG

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The latest annual count of people experiencing homelessness across King County has a grave but unsurprising result: About 11,600 people were homeless during a one-night count in January. And nearly half of them were unsheltered, meaning they sleep on the street, in tents, in cars, or in abandoned buildings.

That's about 9 percent more than last year, though the organizations behind the count say that changes to the tallying process could have affected this year's number.

The numbers are new, but the rest of the report reiterates information about the region's homeless population that advocates have been arguing for years. Namely: The people experiencing homelessness are our neighbors. Homelessness disproportionately affects people of color. And the primary solution to homelessness is housing.

Where people experiencing homelessness in King County live.
Where people experiencing homelessness in King County live. all home

Along with the traditional method of going out in the early morning hours and counting people sleeping outside, this year's count also surveyed about 1,160 people experiencing homelessness.

When asked where they were living when they most recently became homeless, 77 percent of respondents said King County. That result, like a city survey released in March, undermines the persistent myth of "Freeattle," the idea that homeless people move here because we offer services.

Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed had jobs and 73 percent said more affordable housing or rental assistance would help them escape homelessness.

Thirty percent of people reported a lost job as a cause of their homelessness, 20 percent said alcohol or drug use, and 11 percent said eviction. A quarter of people reported trouble knowing where to access services or a lack of transportation to get there.

The report also lays out the disproportional effect of the region's homelessness crisis: Twenty-nine percent of the county's homeless population is black, compared with 6 percent of the county's total population. Fourteen percent of homeless people in the county are Hispanic or Latino, compared with 9 percent of the population.

Both the City of Seattle and King County have declared states of emergency on homelessness, but the problem continues to worsen. For the first time in a decade, the City of Seattle is currently in the process of rebidding its contracts with homelessness service providers in an effort to fund only programs that can show results. The city is also following a consultant's plan for changing the way it spends money fighting homelessness, a plan that depends heavily on vouchers for housing in the private market. Success for voucher programs could prove inadequate in such an expensive market. Meanwhile, the city continues to sweep homeless encampments, though city staff insist they're improving the outreach they offer to people who are forced out of those encampments.

Read the full "Count Us In" report here.

This post has been updated to correct the percent increase in King County's homeless population from 2016 to 2017.