Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine have declared emergencies, and joined by Seattle City Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw and John Okamoto, outlined new investments to respond to the growing crisis of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Seattle and King County.
This morning, Mayor Murray signed a Proclamation of Civil Emergency and Executive Constantine signed a Local Proclamation of Emergency in response to the growing crisis.
“Seattle is facing an emergency as a result of the growing crisis in homelessness,” said Mayor Murray. “The City is prepared to do more as the number of people in crisis continues to rise, but our federal and state partners must also do more. Cities cannot do this alone. Addressing homelessness must be a national priority with a federal response.”
Murray and Seattle City Councilmembers today outlined a $5.3 million package to respond to the growing demand for services. For more information, see details of the new City investments and Frequently Asked Questions.
“Emergency declarations are associated with natural disasters, but the persistent and growing phenomenon of homelessness – here and nationwide – is a human-made crisis just as devastating to thousands as a flood or fire,” said Executive Constantine. “We call on the federal and state governments to take action, including shouldering more responsibility for affordable housing, mental health treatment, and addiction services.”
Executive Constantine has proposed $2 million in investments, some of which are already pending before the King County Council, to address immediate human needs and the root causes of homelessness.
Last winter’s One Night Count found 3,772 men, women, and children without shelter in King County, including more than 2,800 in Seattle – a 21 percent increase over 2014. In 2015, 66 homeless people have died in King County, including 47 on the streets and in unpermitted encampments in Seattle. The state now reports that 35,000 people in King County become newly homeless at some point during the year.
The City of Seattle already invests more than $40 million annually to assist people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness, including single adults, youth, families, domestic violence survivors, older adults, and veterans. King County invests $36 million a year to assist individuals and families at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.
Murray cited a decline in federal housing support and slim state budgets for mental health and substance abuse treatments as factors that have increased the burden on local governments. A decade ago, City resources represented less than 40 percent of the total funding for homelessness services. The City is now responsible for over 60 percent of homelessness investments.
Council President Burgess said he would move the legislation necessary to authorize the new resources through the Council quickly. “This is an example of the Mayor and Council working together toward effective solutions,” said Burgess. “We will continue to invest wisely on behalf of our neighbors in need.”
“We are stepping up today to fight the growing crisis of homelessness in our city and throughout the region,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “This package the City is introducing today will help us meet the immediate needs of many on our streets with additional outreach, services, and shelter. We are doing everything we can locally, but we need the support of our state and federal governments to fully address the emergency we are experiencing.”
“Emergency shelter is an immediate necessity, but these new investments in prevention are aimed at reducing the long-term problem of homelessness,” said Councilmember John Okamoto. “With additional flexible resources for those on the verge of homelessness and assistance for those ready to return to permanent housing, we can lift more families out of crisis.”
Seattle funds over 1,600 shelter beds that serve 13,000 individuals a year. Half of those who are served in shelters do not re-experience homelessness in Seattle. But with shelters at 90 percent occupancy, today the City announced a commitment for another 100 beds.
“Seattle, King County, and our suburban neighbors are responding to the growing crisis of homelessness together,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “When governments, human services providers, and faith institutions collaborate, we will add more housing and create more healthy places for people to sleep and be safe. When each person and family gets the housing and services they need, we will respectfully help them move up and on with their lives.”
There are 32,000 homeless children in Washington state, with nearly 3,000 homeless children currently attending Seattle Public Schools. On average, that’s more than 1 student per Seattle classroom. Bailey Gatzert Elementary, a school of 350 students, served 71 homeless students last school year.
“Families who are homeless deal with many complex obstacles; finding stable housing is only one of them,” said Greg Imel, principal at Bailey Gatzert. “Like all other families, they want a consistent educational environment for their children to learn and to thrive. We need to do more for our homeless children in the City of Seattle and in Seattle Schools. Homelessness has become an epidemic. And it is our moral imperative to address our children’s basic needs.”
The City is currently analyzing all homelessness investments and expanding data collection to ensure resources are targeted at the most effective strategies. Seattle is also launching a new effort to reduce administrative burden on agencies by allowing non-profit partners to provide a range of services under portfolio contracts, rather than separate contracts for each type of service.
“YWCA works to effect lasting change for women and families in our region through services and advocacy,” said Sue Sherbrooke of the YWCA. “Last year, our agency sheltered 2,200 individuals without homes and provided case management to 5,300 more. Yet more people every day face homelessness than our systems can possibly serve. This crisis will grow as our region grows, unless additional measures are taken at the state and federal level to address it.”