King County homeless numbers drop for the first time in years

New numbers just released show homelessness in King County dropped in 2019, for the first time since 2012.

Each year, volunteers take one night in late January to count all the people they can find living without homes.

Overall, King County homelessness dropped 5% in 2019.  But the numbers go farther than that.

'Count Us In' splits the homeless into two groups: 'sheltered' and 'unsheltered.'  People are considered "sheltered" if they're staying at a homeless shelter, a safe haven, or in transitional housing.  Anyone living in a tent, encampment, or vehicle is considered 'unsheltered.'

This year the number of people considered homeless but 'sheltered' rose about 3% - while the number of people considered 'unsheltered' fell 17% county-wide.  We can get even more specific, and determine that the number of teens and young adults who are homeless dropped 28% in 2019.

The bad news is: as of January, there were 11,199 people living without homes in King County.  More than 7,600 of them live within Seattle city limits.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has made responding to the homeless crisis a priority for the city.  On Friday, she announced that the city's  Navigation Team will hire more people and begin working seven days a week to connect people in need with housing and resources.

"Last year the city of Seattle moved over 5,000 people from homelessness to long-term housing. In previous years, that would have ended homelessness," said Durkan. "We want to make sure that every person experiencing homelessness has the opportunity for services and for housing."

The Navigation Team is also responsible for cleaning up any encampments that are encroaching on streets and sidewalks, or becoming dangerous.  But not, as Durkan pointed out, for the areas along the interstates.

"We hear from a lot of people that we need to clean up around the freeways. Most people don't realize that's state Department of Transportation land," Durkan explained.  But she says the city is doing what it can to help.

"I was able to work with the legislature and talk to the governor to get $1,000,000 added in the budget this year. We're working right now with the state Department of Transportation to see how we can put that money to work as quickly as we can to clear and clean those areas that are on our freeways."