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One Night Homeless Count In King County Shows 19 Percent Jump From Last Year

Ashley Gross
Volunteers in Tukwila get instructions before heading out for the annual One Night Count.

There are now hard numbers to back up what Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a televised address earlier this week: Seattle and King County are struggling with a growing crisis of homelessness. 

The latest results of the annual One Night Count  showed 4,505 people without shelter in King County, a 19 percent jump from last year. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, which organizes the count, said that number is assumed to be an undercount because volunteers are not able to go everywhere and some people who are homeless try hard to not be visible. 

More than 1,000 volunteers headed out in the wee hours Friday morning to peer under bridges and in doorways and along greenbelts.

Kristin Winkel, director of leased housing programs for the King County Housing Authority, counted with a team in Tukwila along the Green River Trail, an area that hasn’t been tallied before. She said homelessness is just as much of a crisis in South King County as in Seattle, it’s just not quite as visible.

South Suburbs

"There are so many homeless people that are just tucked up under the overpasses. They’re in the wooded areas, they’re in parks, they’re able to frankly hide a little bit better," Winkel said. 

In Southwest King County, 315 homeless people were counted, up 50 percent from last year.

Winkel said it's important to try to collect data every year. 

“If we don’t know how many unsheltered folks there really are out there, we don’t have a sense of what the scope of the problem is," she said. "We’re at a loss for how are we actually going to understand who’s really homeless, where are they homeless, where do we need the resources and how much more do we need?”

The coalition also added new areas to count this year in Burien and Des Moines. The organizers avoided some of the area in Seattle known as the Jungle, a homeless encampment where two people were killed earlier this week in a shooting.

Seattle police said that shooting was drug-related and they’re still investigating what happened.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.