Today, the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) released the results of a survey of people living outside and in public shelters to further understand their situations and needs, and to better inform the city’s responses to homelessness with its community partners. HSD contracted with Applied Survey Research (ASR) to talk with 1,050 unsheltered individuals and held multiple focus groups with 80 attendees.
Seattle had not completed an assessment of this kind in nearly a decade, and responses from people experiencing homelessness confirmed other information that City has received: that affordable housing availability, substance abuse and mental health issues are key contributors to addressing homelessness. Additionally, the survey shows that homelessness affects Black/African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community disproportionately.
“This survey was an opportunity to hear directly from people experiencing homelessness in Seattle about who they are, how they became homeless and how we can best offer help,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “In taking this in-depth look, the City confirmed known needs like more affordable housing, as well as treatment and support for mental health and substance abuse disorders. It also showed the significant racial disparities and that homelessness disproportionately impacts the LGBTQ community. Because little help has come, particularly from the federal government, this assessment clearly shows Seattle must expand its investment in what is most needed, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, if we are going to address the crisis of homelessness.
“The City’s work under Pathways Home emphasizes the need for this individualized approach to offering services and this assessment offers a better understanding of the complex set of needs that can inform that work.”
Respondents said they want affordable housing, help with mental health and substance abuse issues, and a care and services system that’s more user-friendly.
The research served to dispel several commonly-held myths about the City’s homelessness crisis. Seattle’s homeless population is local, with nearly 70% living in Seattle/King County when they became homeless. Over 50% of people experiencing homelessness have lived in Seattle five years or more. Those not originally from Seattle frequently came for the support of family and friends or for a job opportunity.
Additionally, when asked if they would move into safe and affordable housing if it were offered, 93% of the respondents said “yes.” This dispels another myth that people who are homeless don’t want to come inside. However, rental assistance (68%) and housing affordability (65%) were the top two answers given by respondents when asked what they needed to obtain housing.
“It’s very important that we talk to the people affected by homelessness so we can direct our city resources more precisely, but also look system-wide to make sure our “safety-net” has the support that homeless individuals say they need to move into housing successfully,” said Catherine Lester, Director of the City’s HSD.
Perhaps surprising, 41% of the people surveyed are currently working in some capacity (full-time, part-time, temporarily, or seasonally), and 35% had some college or a college degree.
“While the results may not be all-together surprising,” said Lester, “they are important touch points to inform our community’s work to provide a more efficient and effective system to move people out of homelessness.”
Contact: Meg Olberding, HSD Director of External Affairs, 206-639-9397 (c)