“Seattle’s homelessness crisis has been years in the making, and its roots run deep, touching racial inequity, economic disparities, mental health treatment, rising housing costs, mental health, addiction, and so much more. We have a responsibility to be honest that this crisis won’t go away overnight. Lasting, meaningful progress will take years. But we still must act – and are acting – to improve life in Seattle.” – Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan
Scott Greenstone, the Seattle Times “Project Homeless” producer and engagement editor, stated that one way to help the homeless in Seattle is to shorten the wait time to receive mental health and addiction treatment services. “It’s common to wait a week or two – sometimes as much as a month –for an appointment.”
In a report done in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 34.7% of sheltered adults who were homeless had chronic substance use issues (SAMHSA) and over 80% have experienced lifetime alcohol and/or drug problems. According to Seattle Major Jenny A. Durkan’s website, drug overdose is currently the leading cause of death among people who are homeless. More individuals seek detox for heroin than they do alcohol in King County. Due to the lack of beds in Washington (Washington state is ranked 47th in the nation for psychiatric beds per capita), there are more than 150 people on a waitlist for treatment every day! The City of Seattle has allotted a $78,00,000 budget for Homelessness Response in 2018, which includes areas such a shelter, hygiene and outreach, permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and diversion, prevention, access to services, operations, and more.
Recovery Beyond’s Climbing Out program has shown an optimistic success rate in helping individuals holistically through recovery by weaving together socialization skills and teamwork with physical activity. As noted in a Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, amended in 2015, entitled “Opening Doors”, individuals who are homeless struggle with having a non-existent or frail support network. The interpersonal skills Recovery Beyond teaches are important in the recovery process because they remove the “us vs. them” mentality and increase the likelihood of recovery due to better, supportive relationships. In the past three years, nearly all participants in the program have remained sober. This is incredible. On average, it takes an individual about seven attempts to achieve lasting sobriety.
We need to do everything we can and have all-hands-on-deck if we are going to help homeless individuals in recovery. We are asking for your help: Homelessness can’t be solved overnight. It’s a process of recovery, achieved one individual at a time.
Homelessness continues to be on the rise in King County, according to All Home, an agency that works collaboratively with other organizations and institutions in the county to significantly reduce homelessness. At the time of data collection in 2018, the homeless population in King County was at 12, 211, rising by 469 individuals from the previous year. Over half of the homeless population lives unsheltered, and the remaining live in vehicles, buildings, tents, transitional housing, villages, and emergency shelters.
The housing crisis is just one of the many causes of homelessness, but currently grabs more media attention than other causes. Other factors that contribute to homelessness include domestic violence, certain disabilities, untreated mental illness, medical bills, and addiction. Individuals may utilize substances to alleviate the discomforts they are experiencing, whether it be the challenges of an undiagnosed mental health disorder, physical pain, or a coping mechanism for a life situation, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce. There are several factors that can lead to substance use disorders, including social factors, genetic predisposition, availability and tolerance, and other mental health problems.
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- Current Statistics on the Prevalence and Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness in the United States[PDF]. (2011). SAMSHA.
- Greenstone, S. (2017, November 24). One way to help homeless in King County? Shorten the wait for treatment. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/one-way-to-help-homeless-in-king-county-shorten-the-wait-for-treatment
- L. (2016, January 21). Homelessness Programs and Resources. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources
- Opening Doors[PDF]. (2015, June). United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
- The Roots of the Crisis. (n.d.). Retrieved July 4, 2018, from https://www.seattle.gov/homelessness/the-roots-of-the-crisis