Seattle’s homeless population keeps growing, but…. Who are they?

Outsiders! Some say. They’re just coming here to get free shelter! Or, Drug addicts! Lazy! They choose to live like this.

A recent survey of Seattle’s homeless population gives some more accurate insights into our city’s homelessness. The city commissioned surveyors to interview more than 1,000 homeless people and hold focus groups with 80 others. The survey found:

A majority of respondents already lived in Seattle/King County when they became homeless


A majority of respondents came to Seattle long ago to join a personal network or pursue a job opportunity


More than half of respondents have been homeless for more than a year

LGBTQ individuals experience homelessness at higher rates, especially in the youth and young adult population


Housing affordability is a key component in the complex causes of homelessness

From the survey results: There is a lot of interest in what elements are some of the primary causes of homelessness. We know from experience that this is complicated and there are a constellation of factors which contribute to an individual becoming homeless. In the competitive and skyrocketing Seattle real estate market there are concerns about the role of housing affordability as causes of homelessness. Approximately 20% of respondents listed housing affordability issues as the primary event/condition that led to their homelessness; these include rent increases (11%), friends and family not being able to affording having the person stay (3%), eviction (3%), and foreclosure (3%). In families, the prevalence of evictions were higher at 9%. Focus group respondents noted that property managers and landlords were raising rents radically to take advantage of surging demand and that deposit requirements and other eligibility stipulations were unattainable for many homeless. They also mentioned a significant level of discrimination that was perceived during their application and clear attempts to discourage their interest in available property. One of the consistent findings in our surveys and focus group efforts was a strong desire to obtain permanent housing and become self-sufficient. When asked to list what specific interventions would help, respondents were clear in what they needed.