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caption: Volunteers stand in silence for one hour on the steps of Seattle City Hall to honor those who died in 2021 on Tuesday, December 21, 2021.
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Volunteers stand in silence for one hour on the steps of Seattle City Hall to honor those who died in 2021 on Tuesday, December 21, 2021.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

178 people in Seattle died this year while experiencing homelessness, the most ever

On the longest night of the year, volunteers read aloud the names of every person who died in this year without stable housing. Women in Black of WHEEL has been holding this annual vigil for over 20 years - and this year they read more names than ever.

Some people surviving outside this year in Seattle died from being exposed to extreme heat or cold.

Others were killed during violent fights at tent encampments.

And just this month at least two people died from an overdose while living in a vehicle.

On Tuesday night, at sunset, their names were read aloud outside Seattle City Hall. People standing with candles responded to each of the 178 names with, “we remember you.”

“Last year with 139 names, we thought that was the end of the world,” says Michele Marchand, a WHEEL/ Women in Black member, “and now with 178… it’s just unbelievable.”

The list of names is compiled by Marchand and others who then confirm the identities with Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Richard Harruff, who’s been coming to the vigils for years.

Only one person this year was listed as “unidentified man.”

Anitra Freeman, a WHEEL/ Women in Black member who used to experience homelessness, was one of the name readers.

Freeman helped start these vigils, “to deal with our grief and our anger, to honor and remember individuals,” she says, “because every individual should be remembered."

This year’s vigil comes just weeks after King County announced that over 40,000 people experienced homelessness at some point in 2020. It was even higher in 2019.

caption: Allene Steinberg holds a candle after calling on elected officials to provide more housing to homeless women. Tuesday, December 21, 2021.
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Allene Steinberg holds a candle after calling on elected officials to provide more housing to homeless women. Tuesday, December 21, 2021.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

After all of the names were read Tuesday night, Allene Steinberg, another WHEEL/ Women in Black member, shared the group’s call to action. Women experiencing homelessness need more housing vouchers to get out of shelters, Steinberg said, calling out City of Seattle and King County elected officials to do more.

Another action item: open severe weather shelters. Freezing temperatures and possible snow are in the forecast for Seattle this weekend, but the city still has not said whether emergency shelters will open.

At 38°F on Tuesday night, Steinberg said it was time to open the shelters immediately.