Seattle's "downtown homeless" count up 30% in 1 year, survey says

Tom Boland (
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 10:15:42 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Seattle Times - Saturday, October 23, 1999


by Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times staff reporter

Nearly two dozen children are among the more than 1,000 people living on
the streets of downtown Seattle.

     Those are the findings of the annual homeless survey conducted by
Operation Nightwatch and the Seattle King County Coalition for the Homeless.

     The count, done Thursday night, found there are 1,019 people living on
the streets throughout downtown Seattle, in the University District,
Gasworks Park, Golden Gardens, Green Lake and the lower Woodland Park area.
That number is the highest recorded in the count, which began in 1982, said
the Rev. Rick Reynolds, executive director of Operation Nightwatch, who
blames it in part on the area's booming economy. Last year's count was 784.

     "People are moving to Seattle looking for economic opportunity. But
apartments are expensive. Entry-level workers are barely getting by,"
Reynolds said. Many of the homeless have jobs but just can't afford to pay
for housing and are forced to live on the streets, Nightwatch officials

     Those who did the count acknowledge they likely missed people. "None
of the numbers should be seen as an accurate depiction of the homeless
because of the impossibility of counting at night," Reynolds said.

     In addition, the count does not include those living in shelters,
which provide 2,356 beds in Seattle. The Coalition for the Homeless is
conducting a survey of those staying in shelters, transitional housing or
in some voucher housing and will release those numbers later this month.

     Thursday's survey found that 22 children under 18 are living on the
streets in addition to 433 men, 87 women and 477 whose sex could not be
determined because they may have been covered in bedding.

     The largest number, 156, were found curled up in doorways while 131
were found huddled under roads and bridges. Another 97 were in cars or
trucks, 96 in city parks and 52 in alleys. The largest number was
categorized as "other," which includes those who were picked up in the
county detoxification van.

    Many of the children were found in the University District, although
Reynolds said homeless advocates found one family with two young children
standing on a street corner in Pioneer Square. "That was a real gut check,"
he said.

     Reynolds said a surprise was finding 23 people living under I-5 at the
Ravenna Boulevard Northeast overpass - the same spot where David Ballenger,
a homeless man, was stabbed in August.

      The survey, which is conducted every October between 2:30 and 5 a.m.,
was conducted by homeless advocates, business people, ministers, local
politicians and social workers.

     Among the 140 people who conducted the count was Elaine Simons, a
volunteer from Peace for the Streets. She said some of the homeless
encampments were elaborate. "We found structures that included some nice
finishing touches. People obviously take pride in their home, even under a
bridge," she said.

     Reynolds said there is growing evidence that the homeless problem is
moving into the suburbs and rural King County.

     Reynolds said he met one man Thursday night who had been living for
two years near North Bend. But when a neighbor complained, police took him
to downtown Seattle and dropped him off near a mission in Pioneer Square.

     The homeless numbers are far too high, said Seattle City Councilman
Peter Steinbrueck, who has introduced several proposals to help the
homeless. Two of his staff members assisted in the count.

     "I am very alarmed," he said. "For me it is unacceptable."

     Steinbrueck said he has proposed the city spend $500,000 to provide
more shelter beds, even though that is not a long-term solution.

     Earlier this month, the council agreed to spend $90,000 to study how
to begin a computer tracking system for the homeless.


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