Tent Cities in Seattle/King County

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On January 24, 2014 there were 9294 homeless people men, women and children in Seattle/King County.

  • 3132 slept on the streets
  • 2906 were in shelters
  • 3265 were in transitional housing

How can so many be homeless in this city/county?  The following facts certainly give some big hints:

  • As of October, 2014, average apartment rent within 10 miles of Seattle, WA was $1694/month. One bedroom apartments rent for $1402/month on average and two bedroom apartments rent for an average of $1945/month.
  • I couldn’t find the average cost for renting a house but I saw listings that ranged from $1450 to $6700/month.
  • Prices for buying a house have skyrocketed.  Average purchase prices for 2014 are:

 1 bedroom     $249,975
2 bedrooms   $392,000

3 bedrooms   $470,000
4 bedrooms   $599,000

  • Unemployment is 5%.  That does not include the underemployed or people have given up looking for work.
  • Minimum wage is $9.32 an hour.  Working full-time, a person would earn $372.8/week or $1491.20/month.
  • The lack of affordable housing in the city makes it extremely difficult to move people out of homelessness rapidly and the longer people are homeless the more difficult it is to house them.
  • The citizens of Seattle have to pass a housing levy to fund homeless services. The levy lasts seven years before it needs to be renewed. While this is a potential problem, the levy has been renewed four times during good times and bad.  This is a testament to the city’s commitment to the homeless.

There are City of Seattle and King County programs which help the homeless find shelter and food.  Many churches and missions also devote a great deal of time and resources to this endeavor.  In addition, numerous churches are now allowing homeless people who own cars to park in their parking lots at night.

While I could present a lot more information about the shelters and the feeding programs, I’m going to limit most of my focus to the tent cities.  (Know that these communities are set up in a way that allows their residents to have some degree of privacy, so I took most of my pictures from a distance.)

The Seattle Housing and Resource Effort and Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (SHARE/WHEEL) set up the first tent cities in 1990.  Over time the first two disbanded but Tent City #3 and #4 are still active.  The early tent cities had to move every 3 weeks to 3 months.  Now they are allowed to stay in one place for six months, and an additional six month extension is sometimes possible.

Tent City #3 is currently located near the freeway entrance at NE 64 Street and 8th Avenue NE.  They are able to shelter up to 100 residents.

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Tent City #4  is now hosted by the Redmond Family Church in Redmond, Washington.  It serves 80-100 people.

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In 2008, a group of homeless people set up a group of pink tents that had been donated by the Girl Scouts.  Mayor Greg Nickles had them evicted three days later; twenty people were arrested in the process.  In protest, the camp was named Nicklesville!  The group has moved 20 times over the years.  After disbanding for a year, they were recently given a new Seattle location at 1010 S. Dearborn.  Approximately 80 people are living there now.

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In addition to the tent cities, there are individual tents scattered throughout the city.  It is not unusual to see them on a street, under a freeway, or in the forested areas of the city.  I was recently told that a group of homeless men and women had set up a camp on the sidewalk of the park that borders the King County Courthouse.  When I checked it out I noticed people were also sleeping on the sidewalk.

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May the day come when everyone in the world has both adequate food and shelter.

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

May all beings in the world live in peace
Peace, Peace, Peace

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28 thoughts on “Tent Cities in Seattle/King County

      1. I have a home in Port Angeles, lived there most of 27 years with a summer home in Idaho and about 5 years living in Idaho in that 27 year span. I go back & forth a lot. We noticed a lot of homeless in Port Angles on our Oct. visit. Services in Clallam Co. that don’t exist in other WA counties, and it’s a little warmer on the coast.

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      2. I’ve been to Pt. Angeles several times. And the Olympic Peninsula as a whole is wonderful. I didn’t realize that they had many homeless people there though.

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      3. Not tent cities but people sleep in the tree park, in people’s cars, camp in the thick woods and at rivers. Not camping like vacation camp. They carry their belongings in back packs and sometimes grocery carts. Serenity House provides shelter for many, not all.

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      4. There are a lot of people here who do that too. There are so many homeless living in the woods near me and there is an old man who has lived for years in a homemade shelter made of a lot of tarps just a few blocks away. His home is actually a foot or so from the street. I’m surprise the police have allowed him to stay there for so long. Probably because no one has complained. I know some people won’t go to the city shelters for either food or lodging, they prefer to stay outdoors.

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  1. I read an article where a man just spent $198,000,000 on a house. One of several. All I can think of is how many people he could house by spending 1/4 of that building apartments and low cost housing. He would still have plenty of money left over.

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  2. Well done, Karuna…information is astounding and those photos are really great. We had secitons in Toronto they called Tent City. Although housing is much higher in Toronto than Montreal, Vancouver is still by far the most expensive and salaries are not that great for my area of working anyway…Toronto pays the best…In Canada, minimum wage ranges from 10.00/hr to $11.00 (Ontario)he rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class pay the taxes…maybe that keeps them honest…sort of:) http://www.retailcouncil.org/quickfacts/minimum-wage

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    1. That is true in the U.S. too….. i.e. the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class pay the taxes. The minimum wage here is going to $15 an hour but I think it is going to be phased in over a few years.

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      1. Yes, it IS disgusting. I made more $$ working in the corporate world and in sales although I am much happier in what I do so we have to weigh the self-gratification too. I find the system takes advantage of compassionate people.

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      2. I’m very glad you do what brings you the most happiness, and does the most for the world, but sorry that that choice limits you in what you can do, like go to India! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  3. So sad. In this country of wealth and prosperity to have so many who are being denied the basics — shelter, food, and healthcare. Yet, our government is moving farther and farther away from seeing the benefits of assisting those in needs. Thank you for giving us an insight into the homeless problem in your area.

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  4. Interesting… my community was considering creating a huge tent city after our shelter manager visited Seattle and two other communities that have refined their local tent cities after 20 years of experience. There were many takeaways, and the notion of self-sufficiency and ownership in the homeless-run “cities” offered advantages that would ease pressures for the municipal leaders to be accountable for the administration of these townships. We were working with the faith-based leaders, our central resource center for the poor, as well as our neighboring city, with which there has always been high political tensions. I guess severe challenges were encountered because it has all been pretty hushed for the past couple of years. Just a week ago, however, we needed to address metrolink issues and how our position as the last stop for the county line increases our local homeless population (which is around 6,000 in a community just under 160,000 residents – accounting for about 11-13% of the county’s homeless, but receiving only 2% of the support services funding for homeless throughout the county). L.A.’s metropolitan area was distributing one-way vouchers for inner-city homeless to ride up on the train until the last stop. To assuage this problem, the City Council determined it would be best to shut down the Metrolink station all together, which is a central mode of transportation for our primarily commuter-based population. It has been a key asset in our draw for new manufacturing businesses to the area, as well. Well, somehow, once the Metrolink authorities got together with the County Supervisor’s Office and the City’s mayor and vice mayor; not only were security measures heightened to ensure only ticketed passengers ride the train, a recently closed down county medical facility was sanctioned to be an interim homeless shelter and transitional training facility capable of accommodating 350 beds, among other support services. While this facility only brings our total community beds to about 500, it is definitely a decent start within a community which has relied nearly entirely on the churches and one shelter to provide food, clothing, mental health services and other needs to the homeless and poor. Frankly, I think the tent city concept should still be explored and implemented in key locations, especially since we have vast open land which is already home to so many in hiding. Restoring dignity is essential for these lives to move forward, and that involves a number of factors most take for granted. While I know some will never want to conform to rules and guidelines (especially some of my friends who have been living “free” for 20+ years in the open desert), so much can be accomplished if we just start the movement… and I mean action, not just years of talking about the possibilities. In any case, I just had to stop by on this one, which was highlighted in the email I received from your “like” earlier. I work very closely with the homeless through my faith family and have developed very meaningful and prescious relationships with many. This is a topic very close to my heart, so it is nearly impossible for me not to contribute to the discussion. Oh, and our unemployment rate hit about 17% with a $10 minimum wage. While recent unemployment figures locally, regionally and nationally propose an “increase” in employment, the reality of the matter is new limits on part-time hours and reduced medical coverage requirements have resulted in less full-time jobs and many more part-time positions to cover full-time jobs at a lower cost. It is a disgrace how the system manipulates and then boldly dismisses the true reasons for the plights of our communities.

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