News May 24, 2022 at 10:00 am

Social Workers Face a Supply and Demand Crisis for Emergency Shelter and Permanent Housing



Seattle has spent ~$100M annually for years on homelessness. This article does a great job of cataloging the sorry result. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing you have a problem. The next step is to identify the source of the problem, and that still has not been done:

"...a problem that is fundamentally economic."

"Though experts agree that we only need to build more homes to solve the homelessness crisis,"

"According to Gregg Colburn, the author of Homelessness Is a Housing Problem,"

This article itself contradicts these claims, noting how merely providing housing does not actually get this population housed:

"...around 36% of people who received shelter referrals from the HOPE Team actually showed up to those shelters from September 2021 to March 2022,"

And, the recent sweeping of Woodland Park's encampment demonstrated this in anecdotal form:

“Lolë has an apartment in Bellevue through the legal system diversion program LEAD, but says she can’t stay there because she was asked to get rid of her dog, Ragnar, who she’s had for two years.

“She said the city’s outreach workers did not offer her a different housing option.”


This is a population who arrived in Seattle already homeless, and with various mental disorders, including Substance Use Disorder, which leads to drug addiction. Any attempt to house this population must recognize such facts. Any adult who leaves stable housing on account of a dog (!) must need more than just stable housing.

And paying for that is a matter which has not yet been submitted to Seattle's voters, not by the current City Council, and not by the Stranger. Expect those voters to opt for more sweeps instead, just as they did at the last elections.


Encampment fires invalidate all arguments against sweeping.


HK, I appreciate your report on this complicated societal situation. I am way better informed, now.


Wow, it's almost like all the studies analyzing Seattle's homeless problem correctly concluded systemic fragmentation involving overlapping local and regional non-profits competing for the same funding is not effective. Maybe it's time to fund another study for city leadership to ignore?


The only good news I’ve seen through this endless homeless turmoil is the King County purchase of old motels - relatively quick and relatively affordable acquisition of housing units.
Approving market rate apartments ($1,800 per month for a studio) is not a solution, even if they ‘get the 1st 2 months free’ after signing a year lease.


I would start from an economic point of reason and then a simple truth..

Seattle is the most expensive place to house homeless.
Seattle is the worst place to house homeless who are drug addicts, mental patients or worse.

The simple truth is most of the individual are riddled with drug or substance abuse issues which must be cured if any chance of being housed is going to be effective.

The solution, as naïve as it seems to be, it to build housing and somehow the the problem is magically solved.... if only that were the case.


Why not take the $100 million per year, buy a large 20,000 acre parcel outside Seattle and put all the homeless out there in tents, with support services... mental health, drug treatment, job training,...ect. ....which would then transition to permanent housing, job placement once they have been vetted, treated and rehabilitated.

cure the individual first, give them a chance to change, then put them in permanent housing after this is done.

The other way round, of housing and hoping they will be cured isn't working.


I suggest we rezone all properties around City Hall and King County Court to be SRO housing for adults with various treatable addictions.

Since that's what they think we look like, why not give it to them?


Sweep baby, sweep! Fires, exploding propane tanks, needles, shit (literal and figuratively) and an unwillingness to accept housing when offered has drained any sympathy most Seattlites have had towards this population. (I want my dog/drugs/etc etc with me or I won't go to housing - this is not a rational response and not acceptable). Most people are fed up with the entitled drug addled criminals occupying parks and public spaces. Don't want available housing? Sweep them away!


@4: You missed (at least) one:

Money Quote: "Funders must invest only in evidence-­based, best and promising practices and providers should be required to effectively implement these practices and meet performance standards as a condition of receiving funding."

Turns out, being politically well-connected to the City Council (Hello, SHARE!) was used as the sole criterion instead.

And, from your first link, here's the money quote: "Locally, we realize we cannot simply build our way out of homelessness."

That was 2015. And here we are, in 2022, with the Stranger still telling us we need to build our way out of homelessness.


@8 Well, leave it to the Times to find the least-sympathetic person at the Woodland campsite and highlight her in their relentless (albeit more sophisticated than the right-wing blogosphere) campaign against the unsheltered homeless. Of course, refusing housing because of a dog is ridiculous (there are plenty of market-rate buildings that don't allow them either). But this person is an extreme outlier. Nine hundred ninety-eight times out of a thousand, if you offer someone an objectively better alternative than living in a tent on contested public property, they'll jump at it. The problem is that most shelter placements in the current system are just not a better alternative. They're loud, crowded, dirty, more dangerous and offer even less privacy than outdoor living. Somehow that fact typically gets left out of the mainstream narrative on this issue.


Didn't a lot of homeless people move to Rajneeshpuram and do OK? Maybe these difficult times call for a Baghwan.


@11 Supposedly, the peer navigators are local, formerly homeless people who still have close ties to Seattle's street communities and a deep understanding of the area's social service system (such as it is), not college kids ported in from elsewhere. How true that is in reality I don't know.



So, you're "solution" is, let me see, segregate and isolate an undesirable group in a large holding area, where they can be controlled and their movements restricted. And once they're concentrated into these "camps" far away from the rest of proper society, we'll maybe try to figure out a way to deal with them on an individual basis, but not bother to concentrate any effort on the systemic, economic, cultural, or medical roots of how they became homeless in the first place.

Or, maybe not. I mean, WE won't have to look at them anymore or even be reminded they exist, so who cares what happens to them after that?


how much housing must seattle build for the homeless from everett, spokane, texas and ohio?


@11: No, MHA funds do not "fester". The Office of Housing uses that money to fund actual 100% affordable projects. Developers DO build affordable units.

The scale of the issue exceeds the ability of the For-Profit AND Non-Profit Development Industry to supply housing - by a factor of 10, min. 40,000 unsheltered in this county.

Affordable units are NOT transitional units or rehab beds, which the homeless need more desperately than a studio going to someone making 30% AMI.


Leave it to dumb sheets at The Stranger to argue in favor of more open-air mental asylums for Seattle.


@6 -- "The simple truth is most of the individual are riddled with drug or substance abuse issues which must be cured if any chance of being housed is going to be effective."

Bullshit. I am sick and tired of people making this claim without doing the research. It really isn't that hard. There is even a link right here in this article that you chose to ignore.

Holy shit, why the fuck do you think the homeless situation in Seattle suddenly got a lot worse? Housing prices went up. Yes, there are huge numbers of people with drug problems. Most of them muddle along, since they have money. You notice the poor ones on the street, because they are poor. But most homeless aren't drug addicts, they are just poor.

That doesn't mean that the city (or county) is doing a particularly good job. We aren't Houston. But it does mean that the root of the problem is housing costs. Housing first programs work:

The various agencies need to do a better job in providing more housing, but we also need more affordable market-rate housing. That means allowing more housing to be built, everywhere in the city (and even in the inner suburbs).


So much total bullshit in the comments here. They don't bother to cite any fucking evidence; they just make unfounded statements that are based on stereotypes. How about this little bit of information:

There are over 4,000 children in Seattle who are homeless. Are all of these kids drug addicts and criminals? Do they refuse shelter because the shelter won't allow their dog? Give me a fucking break. They simply have parents that are poor, and can't afford the really high cost of housing in this city.

Holy shit, welcome to America, assholes. More than half the people have less than three months worth of money saved up. About 20% have nothing at all. This means they are one paycheck away from not affording rent. It also means that if rent goes up faster than their wage, they are screwed. Believe it or not, pricks, there are really poor people in America. If rent is too high, they are screwed.


@21When I do the research, I find the following:

Only 6% of respondents identified rent increases as a cause of their homelessness in the most recent Point-in-Time Count. at p.33.

20% of respondents identify alcohol or drug use as a cause of their homelessness. Id.

36% of respondents report behavioral health conditions. Id. at p.25.

32% of respondents report substance abuse problems. Id.

This leads me to conclude substance abuse and mental health treatment must play a significant role in preventing and addressing homelessness.


We could only be so lucky that this would be an actual Hunger Games. At least there would be a positive outcome for 1 or two people.


@10: "Well, leave it to the Times to find the least-sympathetic person at the Woodland campsite and highlight her in their relentless (albeit more sophisticated than the right-wing blogosphere) campaign against the unsheltered homeless."

Is that like what the Stranger did? Intentionally misled readers by profiling outliers: an undocumented immigrant thief, a person housed at public expense who fences stolen property to buy drugs, and a person who was formerly housed at public expense, but who lost it because, um, nothing to do with trauma she'd previously suffered? Or did they profile those individuals because they were a representative sample of that population? (

"Of course, refusing housing because of a dog is ridiculous (there are plenty of market-rate buildings that don't allow them either)."

The story didn't say the property didn't allow dogs; it said she was asked to leave because of her dog. For all we know, she does not practice responsible dog ownership, and the animal was shitting everywhere and snapping at small children. However it happened, she left stable housing in Bellevue and camped in Seattle's Woodland Park -- and wanted another referral.

"But this person is an extreme outlier."

Why? Because you say so? Or are Seattle's parks and green spaces filled with similar persons, with similar decision-making skills? Were I a betting man, I'd place my wager on the latter.

"Nine hundred ninety-eight times out of a thousand, if you offer someone an objectively better alternative than living in a tent on contested public property, they'll jump at it."

Whereas the actual figure, given in the article upon which you are commenting, was 36%. Has Seattle ever swept an encampment and had even a simple majority of the campers accept aid? I cannot recall any example. It's always a numerical minority.

@21, @23:

"The vast majority of JustCARE surveyed participants reported having used substance [sic] problematically at some point in their lives." (, p. 39)

Again, just providing shelter or even housing alone will not house this population, and Seattle has now had seven hard years of experience in watching this approach fail. It's been an expensive failure, and as I noted @1 and @9, the Stranger (and its allies on the City Council) are totally dedicated to perpetuating this expensive failure. Meanwhile, the patience of voters in Seattle has expired, they are voting out of office the politicians most responsible for this failure, and voting into office candidates who promise to end this failure.

If, years ago, the Stranger had called CM Sawant on her Amazon-blaming lies about homelessness in Seattle, had actually noticed the bloody needles strewn about the encampments, and had sounded the alarm on the waste of public funds that is SHARE, etc., then the voters in Seattle might have gotten a different approach back then, and Seattle might have helped this population. But none of that happened, and now it may be too late. Why spend $100M a year that could go to schools, bridges, or roads, when sweeps are cheaper?

Do you have an answer now, dear Stranger?


it's just time for public housing projects.
quad dormatory-style with a big courtyard in the middle for hanging-out outside. shared kitchen and restrooms on every floor, one entire floor is a laundry, another floor for services.

just fucking do it and make them like $200/mo lest we be writing the same fucking articles about homelessness for another ten years.


We need to shift funding to congregate shelters, mandatory drug treatment and a camping ban that is enforced. This is a drug problem not a housing problem. “Housing first” is a failure and a grift.0


Bus tickets and plane tickets to connect drug addicts with there family and community of origin is also part of the solution. It is not Seattle’s responsibility to build housing for every drug vagrant the comes here to camping in the park, steal and have east access to drugs with no legal consequences


@21 ... any jolly rejounders to the facts as set forth by 23? No... I thought not.

@ 17 ... then by extrapolation ... we should probably shut down all the mental health hospitals and drug rehabilitation sites. We wouldn't want these folks isolated and forget about them. Doh. What a card you have become.


and there's the typical Stranger arm-waving solution as the punchline: "invest in making Seattle denser and more affordable."

Hint - dense cities are not affordable. And getting to that developer wetdream of more density (and profit) will only displace more vulnerable populations.


May the odds be ever in your favor.

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