The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness in four broad categories:
It is often thought that veterans, people with disabilities, and single parent families are most at risk of becoming homeless, however the reality is that, today, an increasing percentage of the country's working poor are struggling with or at risk of homelessness. In fact, according to MarketWatch, most of the population is one missed paycheck away from becoming homeless. People recently released from prison and young adults who have recently been emancipated (or "aged-out") from the foster care system are also at increased risk of homelessness.
According to a single point in time in late January 2017 (the "Point-In-Time", or PIT, Count), a total of 1,090 persons or 879 households were homeless in Spokane County. The following is a snapshot of those counted who are experiencing homelessness in our community are:
Most people are not homeless by choice. Homelessness results from the interaction of complex and dynamic circumstances. During the most recent point-in-time count in Spokane County, the most commonly cited reasons for homelessness included: economic hardship, divorce, and death of a spouse. According to the National Coalition to End Homelessness, the top five causes of homelessness nationally are 1) lack of affordable housing, 2) lack of a high enough living wage, 3) domestic violence, 4) medical bankruptcy, and 5) mental illness. These reasons are among those that Spokane's homeless service providers hear from clients every day. It is also important to note that we refer to these community members as "people experiencing homelessness" and not "homeless people" because their homelessness is something that they are experiencing as a result of traumas in their lives and does not define them. Spokane's homeless support services are designed to help those impacted address those various traumas and ensure their homelessness is brief and one time.
According to the NLCHP, one eighth of the nation's supply of low-income housing has been permanently lost since 2001. The U.S. needs at least 7 million more affordable apartments for low-income families, and as a result, millions of families spend more than half of their monthly income on rent. The lack of affordable housing is a major cause of homelessness in Spokane County as well. Our community has a less than 1% vacancy rate, making it difficult for anyone to find housing, even without compounding factors. There is enough public rental assistance to help about one out of every four extremely low-income households. Those who do not receive help are on multi-year waiting lists. And then, for those who are able to make it off of the waiting lists, the success rate in utilizing a housing voucher without support services and assistance securing housing typically is typically only around 30%. Finally, the vouchers do not cover additional housing costs such as application fees, security deposits, etc., creating additional challenges for these low-income community members to move from homeless into housing.
Spokane does offer a continuum of high quality services for people experiencing homelessness, however our data shows that most people utilizing these services are from Spokane County or moved here because they have family or friends in the region. This is similar to national research, which shows that people experiencing homelessness move for the same reasons and at similar rates as everyone else, including for relatives and for job opportunities. In most cities, approximately 60-80% of the homeless people there had their last permanent residence in that same city.
The homeless housing services offered in Spokane County are largely based on helping people obtain private market rental apartments throughout the County. However, just as with the rest of the population, people who are experiencing homelessness need to be housed close to jobs, services, bus lines, and be integrated in the community so they can thrive. This often means in more populated areas. Efforts are being made, however, to diversify housing development locations to meet the many needs of all people.
The answer is YES. Both in the way we address homelessness and in how we understand the shape of homelessness in our community and can be responsive to what we learn. Spokane County has seen a downward trend in overall homelessness over the last ten years. There have also been significant and targeted efforts for specific sub-populations experiencing homelessness that has led to significant reductions in numbers counted during the annual census, including for families. We have, however, observed increased numbers of homelessness among certain groups of people – but for good reason. This is due, in part, to improvements in our data collection, enhanced and expanded services, and additional capacity for our system. For example, with the addition of 24/7 services for individuals and families, we are able to identify even more people who are experiencing homelessness and provide them with the help they need. Finally, we have greatly increased the effort devoted to locating and supporting homeless youth, so the 2017 annual PIT Count identified more young people (under age 25) than in previous years.