A six-year-long decline in the number of homeless people in the U.S. reversed in 2017, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.The report said that was largely because of rising homeless populations on the West Coast.
The findings were based on annual one-night counts of people who are homeless, which occur every year in the last 10 days of January.
In the Pacific Northwest, the report shows the homeless crisis is affecting cities and towns disproportionately.
Over the past decade, Seattle and King County have seen an explosion in the number of people experiencing homelessness. The count in January found more 11,643 people in the Seattle area who are homeless, a 47 percent increase from 2007.
Almost half of those people are living unsheltered—in tents, doorways, under freeways, and in vehicles. This year’s count found 5,485 people unsheltered in the Seattle area, an increase of 247 percent from 2007.
“It’s the perfect storm,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness.
“We have wages nowhere near matching increased housing costs,” she explained. “There’s been a significant decrease in public benefits that help people stay afloat.” Other factors at play include a lack of mental health services and inadequate supports for people with disabilities.
According to the HUD report, other Northwest cities actually experienced a decrease in overall homelessness.
Eugene, Everett, Spokane, Tacoma, and Vancouver, Washington, all reported fewer people experiencing homelessness than a decade ago. But in almost all of those cities, a greater percentage of the remaining homeless population is living unsheltered, which may be why you see more people living on the streets.
The homeless population in Portland has edged up about 7 percent since 2007. But the number of people living unsheltered has remained about the same at around 500.