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Annual homeless count finds more homeless living in vehicles in King County

There are more homeless living on the street, in cars, vans and RVs in King County that staying in sheltered housing. That’s just one of the takeaways from the 2018 Count Us In report released on Thursday, May 31, 2018. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - There are more homeless living on the street, in cars, vans and RVs in King County that staying in sheltered housing. That’s just one of the takeaways from the 2018 Count Us In report released on Thursday.

The point-in-time count done by 1,200 canvassers in the early morning hours of January 26 showed an estimated 12,112 people are experiencing homelessness countywide, an overall increase of 4 percent from the previous year.

“That actually marks the slowest increase we've seen in the last four years,” said Kira Zylstra, Acting Director of All Home.

The count found 52percent, or 6,320 unsheltered, compared to 5,792 in emergency shelters, “safe havens” and transitional housing.

But Zylstra admits, it’s just an estimate. The numbers are based on four elements.

The general street count in January, where canvassers were told not to engage with anyone, just count probable unsheltered spaces where someone may be sleeping.

There was a focused Youth and Young Adult Count done the day before, a sheltered count of people and an in-person survey of unsheltered and sheltered individuals in the weeks after the count.

The particulars of who, how and why someone was homeless were asked in the survey. About 1,056 individuals completed the survey and using a formula, canvassers extrapolated the final tallies. Those surveyed represent 1/10th of the final tally of 12,112.

“It is an estimate,” said Zylstra. “We are asking if they are living in a vehicle, living in a tent, how many people are residing there with you, that creates a formula so we can understand the number of individuals.”

It’s an estimate that will be used by lawmakers, activists and the media for the next year to represent how bad the homeless situation is in King County.

The largest increases over the last year involved people living in cars, vans and RVs. There was a 46 percent increase in vehicle residency.

Unsheltered homelessness increased 15 percent overall and the largest portion of that population was in Seattle.


Richard Smith is one of those who lives in an RV in SODO, his second in a year.

“To get out of this RV, it will take full time job, going back to work," said Smith, who claims he had another RV with all his possessions inside towed away by the city in March. He’s still sore about it because he hasn’t seen it since.

He said he was never contacted by a worker for the count.

“There was no census, never,” said Smith. “You know why I know, because my animals are in here, they took everything I had, I’ll be damned if they take this from me."

According to the count, 71 percent of King County’s unsheltered population like Smith are in Seattle.

It also showed that 83 percent said they were King County residents and 6 percent were from out of state.

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