Homelessness | KNKX


An encampment in downtown Olympia in December 2018.
Will James / KNKX

Officials in Thurston County are experimenting with a new way of responding to homelessness. Instead of breaking up encampments, they plan to support people living outdoors in their existing camps.

Among the heat wave dead, a man of few words, but a big life

Jul 9, 2021
Barnett Moss died during the record-breaking heat wave. A memorial was held Friday on the front porch of the United Churches of Olympia, where Moss slept nightly. During the day, he could usually be found reading on a bench inside the Capitol Rotunda.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Among the hundreds of people who died from heat-related issues during the Pacific Northwest’s record-breaking heat wave last week, one man was a common face at the Washington state Capitol: Known to most as Moss, he would sit for hours in the marble Rotunda and quietly read before packing up his belongings to head back to the nearby church porch where he slept for five years.

A cyclist pedals in traffic near Pike Place Market as snow falls Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press file

Nearly half of citations by Seattle police under King County’s bike helmet law went to people struggling with homelessness. And Black people were four times more likely than white people to be ticketed for not wearing a helmet.

An apartment complex in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood, built in part with city of Seattle funds, will house low-income community college students.
Paula Wissel / KNKX

Some community college students struggle to pay for a place to live. It’s especially difficult because they’re often excluded from federally subsidized housing. Cities, including Seattle and Tacoma, have come up with some solutions for college students facing homelessness.

King County will buy a hotel that has been housing people who are homeless in Seattle for roughly a year as well as four or five other hotels in the coming weeks as part of an effort to house 1,600 people in hotels by the end of 2022.

The use of tiny homes is part of the debate over the language of a charter amendment that addresses homelessness in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press file

A coalition of nonprofits filed a petition asserting that the language Seattle voters could see about a new approach to the city’s homelessness crisis fails to accurately describe the content of the legislation. A court will now have to decide if that’s the case — and the determination cannot be appealed.

People set up camp on a sidewalk in King County.
Paula Wissel / KNKX file

The Auburn City Council voted Monday to criminalize camping on public property, a change with consequences that will largely fall on people experiencing homelessness.

Claudia Balducci during a Zoom meeting.
Office of Councilmember Claudia Balducci

Communities in western Washington have grappled with how to address homelessness for decades. And Claudia Balducci, chair of the King County Council, says local governments, like the one she's part of, must “start and lead with the humanity of trying to help people who are suffering.”

Seattle Parks and Recreation personnel work behind a makeshift barricade to clear debris from an encampment that was occupied by people lacking housing on Dec. 18, 2020, at Cal Anderson Park.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Seattle is paying $10,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a woman who challenged a homeless encampment sweep at a city park last December.

Police said they arrested 10 people in Olympia after a group that advocates for the homeless tried to occupy a hotel, prompting guests and staffers to shelter in place for several hours.

Ed Yourdon / Creative Commons

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

The long-vacant Gault Middle School building in Tacoma.
Will James / KNKX

They briefly occupied an abandoned middle school, hoping to make it into housing. They dumped trash on the steps of Tacoma’s city hall, urging trash collection at encampments. And now a group pushing for better housing in the city says it plans something on Christmas Day, too.

Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

When a new tool called Housing Connector launched in King County last year, caseworkers responding to homelessness said it was quietly revolutionary. They said it made it easier to work with landlords and move people from shelters and encampments into apartments. 

Joanne Silberner

There’s a scene that might be familiar to many people in the Pacific Northwest – someone sitting on the street, apparently homeless, with a loyal dog at their side. A group of volunteers and academics have found that keeping that dog healthy may be a way of keeping that person healthy as well.

Will James / KNKX

Update: The Pierce County medical examiner's office has identified the victim of the shooting as Patrick N. Shenaurlt, 38, of Parkland, and ruled his death a homicide. The cause of death is multiple gunshot wounds.

A man who was homeless was shot and killed during a suspected vigilante attack on a Tacoma encampment last week, according to court documents and witnesses.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Port of Olympia officials and Thurston County sheriff’s deputies displaced an estimated eight unsheltered people from a wooded Tumwater property on Monday, sparking objections from activists concerned “sweeps” of camps add pressure to a shelter system already strained by the coronavirus pandemic. 

In this file photo from March, a man carrying a sleeping bag looks at a sign on the door of the Bread of Life Mission in Seattle's downtown Pioneer Square neighborhood. COVID-19 cases have risen in King County’s homeless population throughout the summer.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press (file)

UPDATE, Aug. 26: King County public health officials say one person has died in connection with the Harborview Hall outbreak. The man, who was in his 70s, died Aug. 7 and had "underlying medical conditions," public health officials said. The King County Medical Examiner's Office lists COVID-19 as one of the causes of death.  

In this photo taken March 23, 2017, outreach worker Brenda Frazier, left, walks with Seattle police officers Tori Newborn, right, and Wes Phillips past tents housing homeless people below a freeway next to downtown Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Budget changes in Seattle could upend how the city responds to encampments of people living outside in tents and makeshift houses.

This week, a majority of City Council members voted to remove funding from the city's three-year-old Navigation Team, which is made up of police officers and outreach workers who respond to encampments. Members of the team disband or "sweep" encampments while also trying to connect the people displaced with shelter and other services.

Nativity House, operated by the nonprofit Catholic Community Services, recorded the first known COVID-19 cases in Washington's homeless population in March.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Two Tacoma shelters that disclosed the first known cases of COVID-19 in Washington's homeless population have avoided widespread outbreaks and now appear virus-free, the shelters' operators said.

Nativity House, operated by the nonprofit Catholic Community Services, had four guests test positive for the coronavirus in March, raising fears that the virus could spread quickly through a population that shares sleeping and living spaces. 

Ashley Gross / KNKX

In recent years, students experiencing homelessness or housing instability in Washington have numbered in the tens of thousands. A new survey shows that many of those students are struggling with basic needs amid the pandemic.

A Red Lion Hotel in Renton that now houses 200 people from Downtown Emergency Service Center shelters in Seattle.
Facebook / Red Lion Hotel & Conference Center

Counties and nonprofits have moved hundreds of people out of the region's crowded homeless shelters and into individual hotel rooms.

It's a temporary step meant to prevent an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. But some shelter operators say they already see added benefits, and the possibility of permanent changes to the shelter system.

Swedish Medical Center has launched a mobile COVID-19 testing clinic for people staying in homeless shelters or living in Plymouth Housing buildings.
Will James / KNKX

Four people staying in King County shelters have tested positive for COVID-19, county officials said, signaling the first signs of the novel coronavirus in the Seattle area's homeless population. 

The four people were staying in at least three different shelters, according to a news release Saturday by health officials in King County.

Nativity House, operated by the nonprofit Catholic Community Services, recorded the first known COVID-19 cases in Washington's homeless population in March.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

A Tacoma homeless shelter has had four residents test positive for the novel coronavirus, so far the largest publicly disclosed outbreak in Washington state's homeless population.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Editor's note: This reporting is the result of a partnership between KNKX's Will James, host of the Outsiders podcast,  and the team of Transmission — a new podcast about life at the center of an epidemic. Listen to Episode 3: Houseless and subscribe.  

The first publicly disclosed cases of novel coronavirus in the U.S. homeless population emerged this week, as local governments and nonprofits rushed to prevent the virus from spreading to tens of thousands of people living outside or in shelters on the West Coast.

Adrian Florez / KNKX

Homelessness on the West Coast is rising to crisis levels at a time of historic economic growth and prosperity. Why? KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times' Project Homeless spent one year in a city that’s grappling with homelessness. What’s it like to live outside for months on end? What’s it like when tents come to your neighborhood? What new solutions can city leaders find?

This is Outsiders.

Outsiders is available wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe now so you don't miss the first episode debuting Jan. 29.

Tents under an overpass in Seattle
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Communities across the state will fan out this week to count people experiencing homelessness. The yearly point-in-time count is one tool local leaders use to measure the scope of the homelessness crisis.

Gov. Jay Inslee proposes $300 million in new funding for homeless services.
Will James / KNKX

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he has a plan to cut the number of unsheltered homeless people in the state by half in two years.

The $300 million proposal would take money out of the state's "rainy day" fund. It would require approval from state lawmakers, whose session begins next month. 

Tents under an overpass in Seattle
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

A plan to create a new homelessness authority serving Seattle and King County cleared a key vote Thursday. But tensions over how the new authority will be governed could delay the creation of the agency into the new year.

West Coast cities, including Seattle and Portland, have had states of emergency in place around homelessness for several years. But many of those declarations are open-ended, lacking definitions of what it would take to end the crisis.

Tacoma City Council members settled on such a definition last week.

One issue in the system of services for those near or experiencing homelessness is inefficiency. A Denver-based developer is hoping his app can help solve that problem, and some service providers in Seattle are starting to experiment with it.