The Short And Long Term Solutions To Homelessness In Seattle


Lauren White, Journalist

Every year about 40 million people visit Seattle to see the beautiful skyline, to go to Pike Place Market, or to go up the Space Needle. But if you live here or take if you take a closer look you’ll see what life is like for over 12,500 residents without permanent housing in King County.

Those people are homeless. Homelessness is defined as not having a permanent and stable house. About half of these people are on the streets, but the other half might be doubled up, in shelters or couch surfing. All of these are versions of being homeless

People end up without permanent housing for many reasons. Some are homeless due to substance abuse, while others end up homeless because of economic disparities & poverty, lack of affordable housing, or racial disparities.

I interviewed Kate Baber from the DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) so I could learn more about homelessness.  DESC provides mental health care and substance abuse care.  They also operate emergency homeless shelters and a type of housing called permanent supportive housing. Permanent supportive housing is a special type of housing that’s affordable for low-income households and people with disabilities.

The first solution to help the homeless is through Emergency services.

Emergency shelters are a warm and safe place for homeless people to sleep at night. But these shelters aren’t permanent, it is only a short-term solution.  I talked to Kate about this and she said, “The city is really focused on increasing capacity for emergency shelters.” 

Adding on to that there are longer term solutions, one of which is also working to increase rental assistance.  I asked Kate about this and she said, Sometimes people experience homelessness because they can’t afford the cost of rent.  So we have local resources to help pay for the rental assistance. We have some state resources that come to King County and we also have some federal resources that come to what are called housing authorities. These types of rental assistance programs used to be called section 8 they’re now called housing choice vouchers.”  Permanent housing is a longer term solution because it takes longer to build a house than to just set up a shelter.

The next solution is permanent housing which will take more time because as Kate says, “We are working really hard as a community to increase capital resources. Capital resources means funding to pay for infrastructure, so brick and mortar buildings. As a community we’re working to build affordable housing that meets different types of needs. The type of housing that my organization dose is really tailored to meet the needs of disabilities. But there’s also other needs in our community like families with kids, foster kids, seniors, veterans, and workers who make a low wage and need subsidized housing to be able to afford to live in the city. That’s a little bit slower because it takes a long time to build a building, it’s not something you can do overnight so that’s a little bit of a longer term strategy.” 

While these are a start there is more that can be done. Kate also mentions this in our interview.  “I think we need to increase the level of public or taxpayer funding as it doesn’t meet the scale that we need. There’s only about 40-80 openings per month for affordable housing, so at this rate we’re moving really  slow. We could house people faster, but we need to invest more public resources.” Said Kate.

In conclusion, homeless is a big problem. Right now there are only 40-80 units available per month. At the rate housing becomes available it will take at least 12 years, if we are being generous, to house every current homeless person and this doesn’t take into account the new homeless.  Therefore, we as a community need to work together to make more housing available and increase funding before it’s too late.


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