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caption: 'We are not homeless, we are being evicted,' reads a sign in the foreground as Seattle Parks and Recreation employees prepare to sweep unhoused community members from Ballard Commons Park on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, in Seattle.
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'We are not homeless, we are being evicted,' reads a sign in the foreground as Seattle Parks and Recreation employees prepare to sweep unhoused community members from Ballard Commons Park on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

40,800 people in King County experienced homelessness in 2020

The previous estimate, based on a one night count from January 2020, was that about 12,000 people were living outside in King County.

Now, the county's Department of Community and Human Services says integrating data with two other service providers gives a clearer picture of the homelessness crisis in the region.

For years housing advocates warned that the annual Point In Time count was a drastic undercount of the region’s homeless population. Now new data backs that up. According to the Department of Community and Human Services, 40,800 people in King County experienced homelessness at some point in 2020. That number was 45,300 people for 2019. This includes a wide range of people, from those living at a shelter the entire year or using services for just one night.

To put that in perspective, that is roughly the same population population count for the cities of Issaquah, Edmonds, or Puyallup. It is greater than the number of people who live in Wenatchee or Lynnwood.

DCHS says the new figure comes from merging data from the County's Homeless Management Information System with two other service providers: the Health Care for the Homeless Network and Behavioral Health and Recovery Division. Together, the County has a better measure of how many people used one of the three services at some point in the year.

The County says this new report brings together critical pieces of information. For example, the Homeless Management Information System database only includes a portion of the homeless population. An estimated 7,300 people experiencing homelessness last year received services from Health Care for the Homeless Network or a behavioral health program, but were not counted in the Homeless Management Information System.

Last month the King County Regional Homelessness Authority announced it would not conduct the federally required Point In Time count next year because of the consistent undercount.

This new estimate of how many people are in need of homelessness services — nearly four times the previous figure — doesn’t come as a shock to housing officials.

“Rather than be disheartened, frankly, by this number, seeing it as the real opportunity, “said Marc Dones, CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. “Which is to say, what does it mean to then invest to coordinate to work at the scale we are called to work at?”

Thursday’s announcement came a day after Governor Jay Inslee proposed $800 million for housing and homelessness services for the state's budget next year.