Frequently Asked Questions about Homelessness

What does "homeless" mean?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness in four broad categories:

  • People who are living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter, in transitional housing, or are exiting an institution where they temporarily resided.
  • People who are losing their primary nighttime residence, which may include a motel or hotel or a doubled-up situation, within 14 days and lack resources or support networks to remain in housing.
  • Families with children or unaccompanied youth who are unstably housed and likely to continue in that state.
  • People who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, have no other residence, and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.

Who is at risk of becoming homeless?

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.

Who is homeless in Spokane County?

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:

  • 138 individuals, or thirteen percent, of all persons counted were unsheltered
  • 952 individuals, or eighty-seven percent, of all persons counted were sheltered
    • 696 individuals, or seventy-three percent, were in Emergency Shelters
    • 256 individuals, or twenty-seven, percent were in Transitional Housing
  • 61 percent of all persons counted were male, 39 percent were female
  • 203, or nineteen percent, of all persons counted were under the age of 18
  • 73, or seven percent, all persons counted were between the ages of 18-24
  • 814, or seventy-four percent, of all persons counted were over the age of 24
  • 71 percent were in households without children, 27 percent were in households with adults and children, 2 percent were in households with only children

Why are they homeless? Do they choose to be homeless?

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.

What about low-income housing?

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.

Do homeless people move to Spokane County because they want to take advantage of the services we have available here?

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.

But there is construction happening? Why can't these low-income and homeless housing be built in less populated areas where it won't impact local business downtown?

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.

Are we doing a good job helping reduce and end homelessness?

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.


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