Welcome to my blog! I’ll be writing about my time working at the ROOTS young adult shelter in Seattle. This organization provides a safe place for homeless young adults ages 18-25 to sleep at night, as well as essential services, such as a place to shower.
Washington State accounts for almost 3.5% of the national homelessness population (https://www.usich.gov/tools-for-action/map/#fn%5B%5D=1700&fn%5B%5D=3100&fn%5B%5D=7000&fn%5B%5D=10700&fn%5B%5D=15400&all_types=true&year=2015&state=WA). On any given night, there are 23,000 homeless people in Washington State (http://helpinghandhouse.org/whatwedo/homelessness-facts). In general, men make up a majority of the homeless population. In King County alone, men make up 57% of the total homeless population (http://allhomekc.org/the-problem/#the-numbers). Broken down even more, in 2015, of the total King County homelessness population, single adult men made up 38%, single adult women accounted for 13%, families with children 49%, and unaccompanied minors under 18 accounted for less than 1% (http://www.tukwilawa.gov/wp-content/uploads/HS-Homelessness-Facts-for-King-County.pdf). On January 29, 2016, One Night Count in King County counted over 4,500 unsheltered homeless people on the streets, 3,200 homeless people in shelters, and 2,983 in transitional housing within King County (http://allhomekc.org/).
Not only are there gender disparities among the homeless in King County, but there are also ethnic and age disparities, as well. Ethnically, African Americans make up 41% of the King County homeless population, whites 40%, multi-racial 8%, American Indian/Alaska Native 5%, Asian 4%, and Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander 3% (http://allhomekc.org/the-problem/#the-numbers). By age, 23% of the homeless population in King County is under the age of 18, 11% is between 18-24, 8% is between 25-29, 17% is between 30-39, 18% is between 40-49, and 24% is over the age of 50.
In 2015, Ed Murray, the mayor of Seattle, declared a state of emergency on homelessness in Seattle. This declaration will give Seattle more authority and flexibility in contracting services and allocating resources to help solve the homelessness crisis (http://murray.seattle.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/11.2.15-Homelessness-FAQ.pdf). Seattle will also be able to call on the state and federal governments for funding support when the city is unable to meet the needs of the new homelessness plan to reduce homelessness in Seattle, “Pathways Home.” This plan includes expanding 24-hour shelter options and making rental units accessible. The goal is to move 500 unsheltered families indoors by 2017, prioritizing housing for families and those who have been homeless the longest (http://www.king5.com/news/local/seattle/seattle-unveils-new-homelessness-plan/315526463). To read more about this plan, visit http://www.seattle.gov/homelessness or http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/pathwayshome/ActionPlan.pdf. In September 2016, Mayor Murray announced that an additional $12 million would be allocated towards Pathways Home (to read more, visit http://murray.seattle.gov/mayor-ed-murray-proposes-additional-12-million-implement-citys-new-homelessness-plan/).
While I applaud Ed Murray’s plan to help the homeless crisis in Seattle, I also believe that it is going to take more than simply housing homeless people and families. Homelessness is not only about the lack of affordable housing. It is not so easily solved. You cannot just throw families or individuals into a house and assume they will not end up back on the street. The root causes of homelessness date all the way back to slavery, and maybe even before that. At my orientation on Wednesday for the ROOTS organization, they talked about how they believe homelessness is caused by oppression, not lack of housing. Oppression can come in many forms, such as racism, income inequality, and homophobia. I must agree with ROOTS. Homelessness is not simply a lack of housing, but rather stems from a long history of oppression that began long before Europeans conquered the Americas.
With this blog, I hope to further quell any stigma of homelessness that my peers or anyone has. Stay tuned for updates about my time at ROOTS these next two quarters. I’ll be working as an overnight volunteer once a week, spending the night at the shelter. Until then, maybe start think about what you believe are the root causes of homelessness, and what prejudices/stereotypes you hold against homeless people, like the ones we walk past on the Ave.