“Homelessness is a man sleeping on the park bench with a worn blanket.”
However, this stereotype fails to convey many of the social and economic causes behind homelessness, and in no way reflects the realities of those experiencing homelessness in America. Even the employed and families are at risk for poverty and loss of a home. On average, 3.5 million people in the United States experience homelessness each year (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009).
The nation’s homeless population increased by approximately 20,000 people from 2008 to 2009 (3 percent increase). There were also increased numbers of people experiencing homelessness in each of the subpopulations examined in this report: families, individuals, chronic, unsheltered.
Among subpopulations, the largest percentage increase was in the number of family households.
How many people are homeless in Washington State?
On any given night, it is estimated that almost 23,000 people are homeless in Washington State. During the 2009-2010 school year, 21,826 K-12 Washington State school children were homeless with their families. Over the course of 2008, it is estimated that 87,000 people faced homelessness. Over the course of 2009, it is estimated that over 102,000 people faced homelessness in our state. See these numbers in perspective.
What are the causes of homelessness?
Here are just some of the causes of homelessness in Washington. See an overview of who was homeless in January of 2008 during the point in time count of homeless persons. (Data courtesy of the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.)
Hundreds of thousands of households simply do not earn enough to afford housing. According to the most recent Out of Reach research, Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a 2-bedroom unit in the Pierce County, WA is $968.
Without spending more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $19.10 to afford a 2-bedroom. The typical renter wage is just $13.96. At minimum wage, a worker would need to work 88 hours a week, 52 weeks per year. Families earning minimum wage who need three bedrooms must work 125 hours. Even two people working at minimum-wage jobs wouldn’t earn enough to make that apartment affordable to them.
Even though Washington State has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, it is still not enough to afford adequate market rate housing in many parts of Washington. Families are being forced to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table.
Get inside family poverty:
1. Poverty USA Video: Learn what it is like to survive at the federal poverty level by watching PovertyUSA (at right).
2. Play SPENT: This dynamic online choice game from Urban Ministries of Durham paints an eye-opening picture of the choices that need to be made when families and individuals lose their homes, jobs, and burn through their savings. There are many millions in this spot today – take the challenge to see if you could make a month.
A significant number of families experiencing homelessness are single parents fleeing abuse with their children. For women who have been stay at home moms, finding a family-wage jobs to support themselves and their children is nearly impossible.
Without treatment, medication or family supports, mental illnesses can be debilitating. People experiencing debilitating, untreated mental illness cannot maintain employment. Without employment, they cannot maintain housing.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Addiction is a powerful thing and it can affect anyone, regardless of income. If a person cannot afford treatment, and do not have a stable place to call home, what chance do they have of recovery?
The vast majority of former prisoners are eager to start over when they are released from prison. However, employers who will employ them are scarce, and landlords who will rent to them are scarcer still. Without a stable home, returning to crime and to prison is almost certain.
Aging Out of Foster Care
Each year, hundreds of youth age out of the foster care system. Sadly, many of them end up homeless because they lack the support system and life skills to live independently. How many of us were able to live completely independently at age 18?
These are only some of the reasons people become homeless. All too often, people experience a combination of these traumas.
How many of the homeless are children?
One out of 50—or about 1.5 million—American children are homeless each year, according to a 2009 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness.
See state-by-state rankings on child homelessness.
How is the recession affecting homelessness?
The recession will force 1.5 million more people into homelessness over the next two years, according to estimates by The National Alliance to End Homelessness. In a 2008 report, the U.S. Conference of Mayors cited a major increase in the number of homeless in 19 out of the 25 cities surveyed. On average, cities reported a 12 percent increase of homelessness since 2007.
Although homelessness is a difficult number to measure definitively, it appears that more people—especially families—are sleeping in shelters, living in their cars, and taking up residence in tent communities.
See also: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University: The State of the Nation’s Housing 2009 (pdf)
Which states have the highest rates of homelessness?
Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State, and Washington, D.C. have the highest rates of homelessness, according to a study released in 2007 by The National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Find out the number of homeless in your state.
What is being done to end homelessness in Washington State?
In 2005, the legislature passed the Homelessness Housing and Assistance Act, requiring each county in Washington to develop a plan to end homelessness. Housing and service providers across the state implement their plans using a continuum of housing options to meet the unique needs of the people they serve.
- Homelessness Prevention: Rent and utility assistance, first and last months rent, credit repair, moving costs, etc.
- Emergency Shelter: Up to 90 days of shelter.
- Transitional Housing: Up to 24 months of subsidized housing and supportive services like counseling, child care, employment training, budgeting and asset building.
- Permanent Supportive Housing: Ongoing subsidized housing with supportive services.
- Subsidized or Public Housing: Housing that is permanently affordable to people earning 0-80% of the area median income.
- Homebuyer Assistance Programs: Down-payment assistance and flexible loan products aimed at helping low income households purchase a home.
A Call for Change
Support and education for those susceptible to homelessness is clearly valuable. Non-profit organizations such as Helping Hand House have the remarkable potential to assist in preventing and ending homelessness and offering a brighter future for victims of homelessness.