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Unsheltered persons won't be counted in Seattle this year

This year will be the first since at least 1980 there won’t be a count of people living outside in Seattle.

The homeless census happens every January and provides a snapshot of how many people are living outdoors and in shelters within King County. The federal government requires every U.S. county to perform the count every two years, but King County has done it every year since before that mandate.


Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted permission to King County to not conduct the count over concerns around exposing volunteers and people being counted to the coronavirus, The Seattle Times reported.


“There’s no way I’m asking a team to go out there in the middle of the night … with a lot of undiagnosed COVID in our community,” said Colleen Echohawk, who runs a service center for homeless Native Americans in Pioneer Square called Chief Seattle Club and co-chairs the board that voted to ask for a federal waiver.


Officials concede it is a flawed way to count, but it’s the only national count the country has and provides data that is used to allocate funding at every level of government.


Outdoor camps in Seattle appear to have proliferated throughout the last year as shelters have been forced to downsize and space people out.


It’s unclear how much COVID-19 has spread in unsheltered camps because there’s been little testing outside, but December was the worst month yet for COVID spread in King County homeless shelters, meal programs and housing facilities, with hundreds of cases reported.