Seattle Declares State of Emergency to Address Homelessness Crisis

By Kenrya Rankin Nov 03, 2015

Facing a growing shortage of resources designed to help people experiencing homelessness, leaders of Seattle and the surrounding county declared a state of emergency yesterday. Making the declarations—a Mayoral Proclamation of Civil Emergency in Seattle, and a Local Proclamation of Emergency in King County—allows leaders to access funding from both the state and federal governments. 

“The city is prepared to do more as the number of people in crisis continues to rise, but our federal and state partners must also do more," said Mayor Ed Murrary in a statement. "Cities cannot do this alone. Addressing homelessness must be a national priority with a federal response.”

The city also proposed a $5.3 million aid package that would provide funding for programs that help families who are at risk for homelessness, a vehicle response program, improved data collection, mental health care outreach teams, and beefing up the city’s 1,600-bed shelter capacity by 100 beds per night.

“Emergency shelter is an immediate necessity, but these new investments in prevention are aimed at reducing the long-term problem of homelessness,” Seattle councilmember John Okamoto said in the city’s statement. “With additional flexible resources for those on the verge of homelessness and assistance for those ready to return to permanent housing, we can lift more families out of crisis.”

A count of people experiencing homelessness in King County on one night in January 2015 found 3,772 people without any shelter, including 2,800+ in Seattle proper—which represented a 21 percent increase over 2014. There were a total of 6,275 people living in shelters and transitional housing, and Washington state reports that about 35,000 people become newly homeless in the county at some point each year. A 2013 report from the Seattle Human Services Department found that while people of color made up 33.7 percent of the population, they represented fully 72 percent of all familes (and 46 percent of all single adults) seeking emergency shelter.